Release Date: Dec 3, 2013
Record label: Bella Union
Genre(s): Folk, Singer/Songwriter, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Singer/Songwriter
On her self-titled album, Sumie builds on the wispy acoustic pop of her EPs -- but not too much. Her music's beauty lies in its economy, highlighting the purity of her singing and playing in a way that feels timeless and also of a piece with '60s and '70s artists such as Linda Perhacs. Most of Sumie was crafted with just her voice and guitar, which she plays with harp-like picking instead of strumming to make songs such as "Spells You" and "Burden of Ease" even more weightless and intimate.
Sumie – or more accurately, sumi-e – is the traditional Japanese art of ink wash painting. A skill that takes years to master, it requires patience, precision, and a great propensity for storytelling; the principal aim of the medium is to capture the spirit of the subject and to deliver a narrative. Inherently expressionist and closely related to calligraphy, you can’t just pick up a brush and start waving it around.
Sometimes less is more - and in the case of Swedish singer/songwriter Sumie's sparse, delicate debut album, that can be both an asset and a limitation. While her sister Yukimi uses a sunnier palette as frontwoman for electro-pop quartet Little Dragon, Sandra Sumie Nagano paints minimalist, silvery soundscapes with little more than her soft vocals and strummed acoustic guitar. Recorded at German composer/pianist Nils Frahm's studio with producer Dustin O'Halloran (if you're familiar with his old band, Devics, you'll have a sense of the hushed vibe at play here), the 10 tracks rarely rise above a murmur.
While her sister Yukimi fronts Swedish electro-pop four-piece Little Dragon, Sandra Sumie Nagano opts for a more austere musical palette. Her self-titled debut features just her voice and her acoustic guitar, adorned on these 10 delicate compositions only by the subtle interjections of producer Dustin O'Halloran's piano. The unhurried pace and her soft intonation make a mildly intoxicating combination, most notably on Never Wanted to Be.
Sumie Nagano’s debut album arrives like a vivid seasonal change. Released through Bella Union Records, the acoustic breeze allows listeners to mentally fill the space that Sumie so effortlessly removes herself from. Unlike her sister Yukimi (lead vocalist of audacious electronic outfit Little Dragon), Sumie’s strengths lie in her simple style and understated choices.
So much of the enjoyment of music is through context; there are times and places for different genres, artists and albums. The ten delicate, minimal folk songs that comprise Sumie’s self-titled debut LP are quintessential examples of music that needs a certain environment to flourish; the album is elegant and reflective but to have true resonance it must be allowed to surround its listener. The enjoyment is to be found in the delicacy and intimacy of this intriguing debut from the Gothenburg based artist.
Sumie Nagano comes from a talented family. Her sister, Yukimi, fronts Little Dragon, an electro-pop outfit, and her father Yasuke created an astonishing animated video for “Never Wanted To Be”, a track that features on this, her self-titled debut full-length. When speaking of the solitary nature of her sound, the Gothenburg-based singer has pinned it partly on living with her two small children, and thus not being able to make much noise when writing, practicing and recording music.
Sumie Nagano plays a spare and delicate folk music, her fingers tracing spidery guitar patterns that circle one chord and then another, her voice cutting clean through a sparkling silence. She sounds a bit like Linda Perhacs if you can imagine her without the occasional blues slide, or perhaps somewhat akin to Sharon Van Etten, though more remote and less vulnerable. The person she does not sound like, at all, is her sister Yukimi Nagano, who shades the electro-pop of Little Dragon with stylized R&B cools and trills.