For a singer-songwriter, the benefit of starting from a point of quiet is the room it allows for manoeuvre afterwards. Such is the case with the subtly cinematic second album from Sandra Sumie Nagano, Lost in Light, due for release through Bella Union this November. On 2013’s eponymous debut, Sumie tapped into the
mid-point between Scandinavian and Japanese folk music to deliver an album of blissful restraint, its quietude shaped by a combination of parenthood and natural inclination. The follow-up is an album of stealthy dynamism, drama and mystery, its impact made all the greater because it skirts obvious routes to dance just out of hand’s reach, always seeming to be on the verge of departure.
For Sumie, the album’s mere existence was never a foregone conclusion. “I was a bit jaded from the aftermath of the ﬁrst album,” she explains. “My debut album was very personal and I was proud of letting it go; however, I was not really prepared, even though I was almost 40 years old at that time. For a quiet person, the aftermath turned out in many ways, some for the better and some for the worse. So, the thought of a second album was not self-evident.”
Besides returning to her day job, Sumie reacted by exploring other worlds: “I would go to the library and ﬁnd books about art, birds, history and poetry, and go to the cinema as much as I could. A safe way of escapism.” Yet this escapist route was no mere retreat: it opened paths of inspiration when she found a Swedish poem by Daniel Klevheden, ‘Divine Wind’, which she translated into English and made into a song.
Between its shivering percussion, hypnotic guitar, spectral poise and poetic evocations of rebirth (“We spread and die in eternity/ We shall bloom again…”), the song became the leap-off point that helped determine the potency in restraint of Lost in Light’s other eight tracks. ‘Fortune’ finds Sumie singing of “a storm under my skin” over a lonesome guitar, its surface becalmed and its subtexts deep; kindred spirit Peter Broderick guests, harmonising warmly. ‘Night Rain’ is like a waltzing soundtrack to a Euro-movie of fleeting romance (“Ask not of me if I will stay…”), its Morricone-ish trumpet supporting the cinematic sensibility. As Sumie explains: “I have a visual to each song and I like to think they present their own scenes. From the top to the end, and on a big, ﬂickering ﬁlm screen in an old, beautiful movie theatre.”
Nocturnal partings also underpin the Leonard Cohen-ish ‘Blue Lines’, where Sumie’s voice rings out sweet and pure over a plucked guitar. The soulful ‘Pouring Down’ finds her singing of “cold rivers” over warm keys, while ‘Frö’ (“seed”) occupies a world unto itself, existing in a state of suspended rapture. ‘Leave Me’ luxuriates over warm violins, recalling separations under “skies in black”. The mood is impeccably sustained for the gorgeously lilting ‘The Only Lady’, a riff on US-indie filmmaker Miranda July’s novel The First Bad Man, with quotes from David Bowie’s sweetly loved-up ‘Kooks’ included. To close, ‘Walk Away’ offers a final reverie on departures, its aching trumpet and plucked guitar building to the gentlest of crescendos.
Those who helped Sumie climb that poised peak included producer Filip Leyman, in whose Gothenburg studio the album was recorded. Fellow contributors numbered Karl Vento and Albert af Ekenstam on electric guitars, Emma Strååt and Kajsa Persson on strings, and Max Lindahl on trumpet. Lately, Sumie has also surfaced on others’ work. She sings on ‘Cover Hearts’, a track from sometime soundtrack composer David Wenngren’s Library Tapes project, and on Gothenburg electro-collective Tegami’s pulsing ‘Screen Dream’. Meanwhile, back at base camp, Lost in Light is a screen-style dream of an album itself: immersive while it lasts, haunting after it flickers out of view.