REVIEW: Ida Maria – Fortress Round My Heart
Zach Hart Wednesday, April 15, 2009
After tearing up the charts in Scandinavia and the UK, Norwegian rock girl Ida Maria Sivertsen has come straight out of left field and is in the process of bursting onto the American music scene with the April release of her debut album Fortress Round My Heart. This isn’t just any Euro-breakthrough, however. After a close listen it becomes apparent that there is way more to these tunes than, tight rhythms, distortion, booze, and sex.
This is pretty catchy stuff. One might even call it fun. Indeed. Fun. What’s really appealing about this record, however, is not its punk thrash, its crooning lamentations, or its neurotic energy. Rather, it’s all of these diverse elements, threaded together in subtle tension that make it charming, sad, and overall, a rather interesting portrait of an artist. The lyrical moods, musical range and the tangible humanity of Sivertsen’s ragged and quavering vocals stretch just far enough to provide an interesting, listenable album, without making it seem schizophrenic and center-less (Evil Urges anyone?) Fortress Round My Heart is nervous, self-deprecating, and according to the opening track, “Oh My God,” honest. More than that, it is incorrigibly human. This is not the demonic sexuality of Karen O or the self-possessed cool of Chrissie Hynde. It’s something entirely more approachable. If there is one thing to take away from this album, it’s this: there may not be anything paradigm-shiftingly original here, but there is a colorful portrait of a very human, very relatable, subject.
In the opening track, “Oh My God,” Sivertsen dabbles in boozy existentialism, chanting through explosive rock and roll herky jerky: “Oh my God/ You think I'm in control/ Oh my God/ You think it’s all for fun.” Any initial impression, it would seem, is quite the wrong impression –there is indeed no girl behind the mask. Mask is truth. Sivertsen is the sum of her actions with no secret self hidden away from view. I think it would be difficult to underestimate the importance of this track –in a sense, it is a hermeneutical key through which we gaze at the rest of the album. While it serves this function well and is probably a blast live, it does get a bit repetitive, melodically and lyrically.
Almost in answer to the existential declaration of “Oh My God,” Ida follows up with thoughtful tracks showcasing dramatic, open arrangements which give her nicotine-scarred voice room to flex and breathe. Tunes like “Morning Light” and “Keep Me Warm,” and “See Me Through” show off Sivertsen’s voice in an entirely new light –the tones break through in all their color, warmth and vulnerability. We see that while there may not be an ego which hides behind her actions, there was much more than first met the ear. There is a girl who gets her heart broken, who cries, who prays to an absent god. There is a girl who sings a ballad to her closest confidants –a pack of cigarettes and a cup of coffee. Perhaps what makes these images most compelling this how they are set in relief to the ostensibly fun (though lyrically neurotic) rock tracks on Fortress. This is a dynamic personality singing dynamic songs.
“I Like You So Much Better when You’re Naked,” (currently occupying spot 37 on the Billboard Hot 100 Modern Rock Tracks) is another rocker –a punky pop jam about awkward, uncommunicative sexuality which you’re sure to find blasting at you’re local collegiate beer-pong tournament any day now. Like “Oh My God,” Sivertsen does not give us our rock and roll on the cheap. While the music is an accessible, bouncy rock anthem, the themes of communicative breakdowns, self-loathing, and sex are hardly the chomp-chomp of so much pseudo-risque bubblegum (You kissed a girl?! You liked it?! Holy shit…I can’t believe it!).
In all, Ida Maria’s debut is usually fun, never pretentious, and always human. While the lyrics have some rather trite moments, it’s important to recognize that there is some powerful, though cheeky, psycho-drama being laid out here, and it’s worth a listen.