It’s odd that it’s taken three albums to get here, but this is the one that feels to best suit the moniker, Sea Change. Not to mention it being delivered amidst the most glaring, global “sea change” in decades.
While always atmospheric, Ellen A.W. Sunde’s project started out closer to the colourful Scandi-pop that allowed for a sprightly glockenspiel to adorn early single, Above. This was stripped back to a post-R&B haze on second album, INSIDE, inspired by time spent in LA. But Sunde is now back in her native Norway, and there’s a certain icy murk that glowers throughout Mutual Dreaming that hits just right.
The club-inspired flourishes still form the main adornments to the ambient backdrop, but there’s rarely a feint towards pop on this collection. Choppy vocals weave in and out of most tracks, making you lean in to try and decipher them, but it’s quickly apparent that “mood” is generally more important than intelligibility.
First single, I Put My Hand Into A Fist, swaddles its synthesised drums in ambient waves, the far-off vocals giving the impression of Björk wailing at the back of a club. The vocals often have an anaesthetised or foggy quality, like on the pitched down wordlessness of Rituals or the breathy robot-sex jam, That’s Us. And it’s often the pauses and spaces that bring out nuances that would be lost on a lyric sheet: “lost control of my mind… even on the outside” on Is There Anybody There or the emphasis of the final word: “I feel different… now” on Night Eyes.
The spectral nature of this album makes it ephemeral by design, difficult to grasp or point to specific moments. The palette is so consistent and the flow so effortless that the final fade-out feels abrupt. Sunde has spoken of this album as more intuitive than previous ones, and there is a certain dreamlike ease as it floats by.
The ambient synths keeps the clubby tendencies in check, stopping the heavy beats (Never Felt, title track) from being repetitive or anxiety inducing. But, in turn, they provide a bit of edge that doesn’t let the album fade into the background. It’s a fine balance, and one that Sunde manages beautifully.