While the latest album from Norwegian producer and singer Ellen Sunde may have all the earmarks of music made for a club, there is something about Mutual Dreaming that makes it seem more suited for an isolated listener, someone who is able to take in all the nuances without the distraction of the outside world. Maybe that is partly explained by lead single ‘Is There Anybody There?’ Written during lockdown, you can almost hear the way in which the song reaches out for a community that isn’t there – teetering on the edges of turning into an all-out banger, instead it holds back each time it gets to a precipice. Instead of letting loose, it again looks out and asks the simple question that is summed up in its title. In both lyrics and structure it seems to be saying that there is a barrier stopping it from reaching another level.
‘That’s Us’ exists in a similar world. It’s always on the edge, threatening to explode, but kept in control by a measured vocal and a hypnotic, regular beat. And the slow build of ‘OK’, with the steadily increasing pace of the instruments under the hushed vocal, gives you the first feeling of permission to let yourself go – the first sense that you could dance to this one in the early hours of the morning. If only you had anyone to dance with.
It is only with ‘Never Felt’ that we finally feel the full force of the music that has been building so far. The repeated line of ‘never felt so high’ is the clearest vocal of the album so far, the first time Sunde has allowed herself to fully sing rather than perform in something that exists between singing and spoken word. The percussion feels more frantic now. And as the song drifts into its final minute the synths and the bass feel more purposeful, the album moving away from its enchanting minimalism into something that feels like the opposition of ‘Is There Anybody There?’ Not that the community has necessarily been recovered, but that our performer has found a way to move forward anyway.
‘Night Eyes’ continues this evolution, before two of the final three tracks offer a kind of measured peace to the listener. Sandwiched between them is the title song, which comes the closest to being a full on dance track on the whole album. It’s the kind of track you can imagine festival revelers finding at the end of a long day, unable to throw themselves fully into anything, but finding a way to move their hips and shoulders anyway.
In a way, the whole album has that kind of feel. It exists somewhere between full on electronica and the music that might appeal to fans of bands like Daughter and the xx. Enough lyrical and emotional weight to hold the interest, at the same time as the musical ability to pull you into a hypnotic state. It’s an accomplished album that could win fans across the board.
Words by Fran Slater