Uses honesty as a substitute for substance
Alex Rigotti
18:30 29th April 2021

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‘Do you like the girl in red?’ No, you’re not being asked about Chris de Burgh’s hit single, but Marie Ulven, the 22-year-old Norwegian who has managed to achieve cult status - particularly in the queer community. She’s also become the face of bedroom pop, along with the likes of Clairo, beabadoobee and Khalid. For the most part, girl in red’s appeal has been her direct, straightforward approach to her emotions. On if i could make it go quiet, however, this translates into a tracklist that quickly becomes a fun, yet repetitive, record. 

One of the advantages of bedroom pop is the control artists can have over their sound; most of the album is written and produced by Ulven, with additional production from Mattias Tellez. One anomaly is the opening track, ‘Serotonin’, which was produced by FINNEAS (better known as Billie Eilish’s brother). The track starts the album on a strong note, incorporating fun rap-rhythms on the verses and catchy hooks to capture the loose, youthful energy Ulven is known for.

Unfortunately, it’s the album’s strongest offering: the rest of the tracklist is well-produced, yet nowhere near the ambitious attitude that girl in red claimed the album to be. ‘Body And Mind’, for instance, begins with perky synth chords, but once the drums enter, one can predict the booming stomps and stadium-filling claps in the chorus. It’s perfectly engineered for festivals and gigs, but it also feels a little too calculated compared to the liberating rush of ‘Serotonin’.

The album also has its quieter moments, which are let down by its overly plain, pallid lyricism. ‘midnight love’ features tentative string picking over a subdued piano line, and Ulven singing in a manner that reminds me of Taylor Swift; it’s the perfect soundtrack of someone tiptoeing out of their one-night stand’s room. But the song relies on frustrating clichés like "I can’t be your second best" and "I keep going back for more". A track simply entitled ‘.’ sows the seeds for a more introspective view on Ulven’s problems: she confesses that she could have been more "honest to you ‘bout what I want". She fails to push this further, to elicit an emotional response outside of the experience of being heartbroken itself. 

This even extends to unpleasant blame-games on ‘you stupid bitch’, which seems less intentional parody than a really nasty song about someone who’s clearly struggling with how they relate themselves to the world. It’s always frustrating to have that friend who dates awful people, but their inability to see this pattern is usually a problem much bigger than the person themselves. There’s no attempt on Ulven’s part to understand them, and the solution certainly wouldn’t be the kind of sanctimonious attitude she displays in the same vein of Shawn Mendes.  It’s a shame given that the instrumentals and production are one of the highlights of the album, too.  

This is the problem I have with the majority of the album: Ulven is willing to be honest about what she’s going through, but there’s little attempt to describe exactly what this means for her, or to individuate herself from other artists about the same subject. Tracks such as ‘I’ll Call You Mine’ are so generic in concept that nothing really separates girl in red from any other artist that could write this, sonically or lyrically, and doesn’t come to much of a conclusion. Whilst it’s gorgeously dreamy, with impressive vocal control from Ulven, it doesn’t have the cheekiness of previous releases such as ‘bad idea!’. It’s telling that the album ends on an instrumental track, ‘it would feel like this’. Whilst it’s a bold move to make, Ulven spends a lot of time talking about her woes and is rather silent on what she draws from such experiences. 

if i could make it go quiet is a fun debut from an artist who has the potential to push their sound and lyricism so much further. This album will satisfy devoted fans who might be looking for more range than her previous offerings, but many of the concepts on this album are underdeveloped, using honesty as a substitute for substance.  

if i could make it go quiet arrives 30 April via AWAL.

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Photo: Press