It all began with a single released last year in Norway by a 20-something and her backing band. "Oh My God" sets the foundation for Ida Maria Siversten's entire album - Fortress 'round My Heart - which was released back in March. It's a calling card that speaks of equal amounts of insanity and histrionics, a taste for the macabre, and more than a little bit of punk rock influence in the bundle. The album is full of fireworks. There are screams; outbursts of bitter, seemingly unhinged laughter; soft to loud transitions; and "on a dime" start-stops. These metaphorical fireworks all show a highly crafted persona and style that would normally strike me as annoyingly contrived. Yet, I find myself just as entranced by "Oh My God," as I do by the rest of the album, and it is more than just a musical dalliance on my part. Something inside me wants to live in this record for awhile, and I suspect that the reason lies in the honest glimpses of naiveté, uncertainty, and (yes) vulnerability that deepen the sound of the entire record, making it something more than just a good show built on a catchy single.
When "Oh My God" transitions none to gently into "Morning Light" you begin to hear that eerie bitterness, and also a little bit of cocky strength, a little bit of "don't fuck with me" attitude. Musically, the sound pulls into harbor where the Strokes left off in 2001 with "Last Nite," battens the hatches with smashes and crashes similar to White Blood Cells, and then heads back into the storm with The Misfits' horror-punk at heart.
"I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked" plays with words like Don Juan plays with hearts, and I think it was really this song that made me fall for Ida Maria's music. It is cavalier in the most heartening sense of the word, but also continually surprised by its own carelessness. Semi-ironic in her embrace of female empowerment in the vein of The Donnas, while carrying over the thoughtful snark of Kathleen Hannah. In the end though, however many philosophies you subscribe to in a verse, it comes down to a beat and a melody that make you move. This song isn't written to be particularly melodic, but the rhythm does overtime.
In "Stella" God is a drug-dealer and his 43 year old girlfriend is a hooker who inspires the title of the song. I find myself feeling like that story might not be too far from the truth when Ida Maria sings:
"And it made me realize how much you wanna give away just to feel loved
And the Lord blinked to me and asked: What is real love to you?
What is fake and what is true?
Oh, Stella, I wanna give you the world if you just stay with me tonight
Stella, Stella! I wanna give you the world if you just hold me tight,
Hold me tight"
She sings these lines with all the sweetness and warmth missing from her more graphic proclamations in "I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked" and "Morning Light." It is here where you begin to see more clearly that Ida Maria sings her love songs to the dirt and grime and reality of humanity.
With this revelation, you find at the very heart of the album, a sober ode to some type of normalcy. "Keep Me Warm" celebrates comfort and the kind of love that works without loud declarations and fireworks. Suddenly, Ida Maria's voice melts into the softness of the song, and the softness of the themes and she is transformed into something altogether less harsh and alien.
"Forgive Me" begins to wind the energy of the album up again, and with the strength of Chrissie Hynde on her most ferocious whirlwind Pretenders songs Ida Maria whips into motion again, calling out a lover who "read about love in a book somewhere." There is heartbreak in here, in fact there is a good amount of heartbreak, but there is also a kind of self-absolution taking place, as she reckons with the fact that she has been fooled and hurt in the process.
Then there is the fallout with a bottle of whiskey in "Queen of the World." What lends a certain depth to this outwardly throwaway song is that Ida Maria is dealing with something greater than alcoholic dance parties. In fact, there is an existential question at the heart of this song, and it is neither pretentious nor fanciful. In the middle of the song, you find these lines:
"...I'm Queen of the world
I bump into things
I spin around in circles
And I'm singing, and I'm singing
Why can't I stay like this?
Oh let me be young
Let me stay, please
Oh let me stay like this
Bring me home
I've got no plans for tomorrow
I've got no plans for tomorrow
I got no plans in sight
In fact I'm free this week
I'm free this month
I lonely, lonely this year
I'm lonely forever
But today, oh..."
Yes, the slip of loneliness, the slip of uncertainty spills from a mouth admittedly lubricated by alcohol, but isn't that a more honest expression of a drunken night of carousing than, for example, "Blame It"? "Louie" follows the same pattern of hollowness exhibited in drunken moments. Both songs are highly danceable, and they carry that cavalier attitude from "I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked," but then there are sharp pricks of uncertainty that drop into the midst and send shudders through the rest of the song.
"Drive Away My Heart" does not embrace the cavalier, but instead relinquishes control to the inevitability of future brokenness. She sings "I wanna give you love, and so love will be my grave," and although this line it calls to mind many an emo/pop anthem, Ida Maria's delivery makes all the difference. Her voice shudders and groans, emitting all of her strength with the delivery of the prophetic lines. It hurts to listen to this song, but I think it is worth the pain.
"In The End" is a kind of Laura Marling inspired, darkly influenced, song of resigned love. There is a soulful expression of hope, like a bird sighing in a cage. The hope is that the lovers (I am assuming they are the lovers who meet and part and meet throughout the album) will meet once again with "wrinkles like the demons" and the energy to dance.
But like I said at the beginning of this post: it all began with a single called "Oh My God." Here you have it: