Norweigan bedroom pop queer icon Marie Ulven aka girl in red has had quite the anticipation built up coming into this album. From her early days of releasing the Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 EP’s Ulven gained a following for her catchy, warm and explosively queer bedroom pop recordings. She was nominated for Best New Artist at the 2020 Norwegian Grammy Awards and her singles “I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend” and “We Fell In Love In October” are certified gold in America. She now returns with her debut full length album that is bundled with queer love, open sexuality and more than a few infectious melodies.
The first thing you realise about this album is Ulven’s transition from breezy guitar tunes to weaving in elements of hyper pop to create ballads of love and longing. Following on the trend of the likes of Claud and beabadoobee, Ulven has made sure her sound is exciting as possible. From the moment this album starts with “Serotonin” you’re welcomed in with music that’s travelling at 100 miles an hour. Moving through passages of glowing riffs, rapped verses and distorted solos there’s never a moment you don’t feel like you want to run around in the rain whilst crying. And this explosive sound is one that continues throughout most of this album. On the candid “Did You Come” Ulver wastes no time building intensity over rolling beats, cascading guitars and downcast piano lines as she explores jealousy of sexual ability with an unreserved mark. “Roll your tongue, make her come 20 times, Don’t tell me to relax or try to get me back, I’m packing up you bag” she declares with an abrasive unforgiving drive. It’s in these candid moments that Ulven is gloriously defining a new generation of sexual identity by being openly plain-spoken.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this album is Ulven’s newfound anthemic songwriting flair. On “You Stupid Bitch” Ulven moulds together elements of pop punk and indie rock to create the ultimate lovesick banger. It’s chorus of “You stupid bitch, can’t you see, the perfect one for you is me” will be sure to be belted out by adoring fans at what will surely be an eventual big run of festival lineups. And on “Rue” Ulven blends turns the folk ballad outset into a dystopian ballad of intoxication. “I try to get it off my mind, to leave it all behind, don’t wanna make it worse, i’m gonna make it worse” she declares as the haunting soundscape around her builds. She’s locked into this connection that she knows is doomed to fail, yet strives at every moment to push it towards reality.
Even in its most tender moments Ulven brings every sound to devastating heights. On “midnight love” she builds through swaying layers of piano rolls and plucked guitars. All whilst the club-like beats pounds like a tender heart in the background, eventually crashing into a sea of impassioned and reverb drenched vocals. She even evokes the nostalgia of early 2000’s pop on “I’ll Call You Mine”, through its swinging beat, Ibiza dance floor infused slow burn chords and emphatic emotional bursts she turns tender longing into an assured queer anthem. With the climax finding that delicate balance between intensity and unrequited tenderness.
Towards the backend of this album though Ulven seems to reach an emotional plateau in which the heights and depths of the opening run of tracks seem to be dulled down and feel slightly underwhelming. On “Apartment 402” Ulven looks to lay find an answer as she contemplates her place in the world. But sonically this song doesn’t offer much else that hasn’t been heard earlier in the album, with the cascading soundscape and exaggerated piano. The intensity of the song never seems to reach its climax, rather just fading out after a few verses of beat driven disparity. And closer “it would feel like this” the album transitions into the closing credits as strutting violins swoon over a melancholic piano line that just feels slightly too awkward to big the closing finale of an album that’s built on emotional intensity. As if you’ve reached the peak of this emotional mountain and now are listening to the music in the elevator on the ride down.
With that being said it’s clear to see how and why Ulven has gained the level of acclaim she has up to this point. By spearheading a new generation of openly queer storytelling through power ballads of love and regret she’s furthering the movement of ability to love freely. And that’s what this album is at its core. A story of love, regret, longing and sexual frustration set to a backdrop of explosive soundscapes.