Marie Ulven has a potentially great album in her future, but this is not it.
if i could make it go quiet may be the official studio debut of Marie Ulven, AKA girl in red, but the 22 year old Norwegian songwriter has already amassed a sizeable cult following and astounding streaming numbers over the past three years. Ulven initially arrived to phenomenal online hype back in 2018 on her Chapter 1 EP and its subsequent 2019 sequel, building a rare kind of fandom through her bedroom pop, one which called into question whether a traditional album release was even necessary - girl in red singles and their ensuing EPs felt like events in themselves over the past few years, and the lack of structured release gave Ulven a strange sort of mythic power. Each song felt a little more precious for existing by itself without the context of a major album release, a secret kept between fans in a tightly knit but rapidly growing community.
This probably only goes some way towards explaining the level of anticipation that began to bubble last year when Ulven started hinting at a major full length release tentatively titled World In Red, an album that was delayed by the COVID pandemic before eventually morphing into what arrived this month as if i could make it go quiet, girl in red's official bow into mainstream territory.
Ulven was admittedly in a strange position before even writing a note for her 'debut'. With an intensely devoted fanbase already established as well as worldwide status as a queer icon ("Do you listen to girl in red?" apparently became slang last year for "Are you gay?"), it was inevitable that the young songwriter's first full release was going to be subject to a level of expectation not usually associated with an artist's earliest LP. It would have been easy for girl to take the safest option on this long awaited album - curate a predictable compilation of the Chapter 1 and 2 EPs to introduce them to a larger audience, rather than compose a fresh set of tracks - but to Ulven's credit she has taken the bolder and more interesting approach of writing a totally new standalone record that's more than a little different to its predecessors.
Clearly not content to rest on her laurels, Ulven pushes herself into a more ambitious and developed sound across these 33 minutes, teaming up with Norwegian composer and producer Matias Tellez to execute a more expansive vision of her early EPs. Regrettably, it's a level of ambition that badly comprises large parts of the record, resulting in an overproduced aesthetic that never quite manages to accurately portray the potential of its artist.
Ulven's early singles were tender queer pop anthems characterized by raw emotion, naked insecurity and a willingness to boldly address social and personal issues with a directness that bordered on confrontational at their most affecting. if i could make it go quiet dulls its artist's edge with a frankly uninspired vision of modern pop that at times seems designed expressly with mainstream crossover in mind, as the generic electrotrap production that rears its head throughout the record loses Ulven's words and feelings in a busy sonic shuffle.
As perhaps the biggest single launch of the album rollout, 'Serotonin' is the rare example of the electro production working in the lyrics favor, as Finneas O'Connell captures the chaos and anxiety of Ulven's intrusive thoughts on an arresting opener that switches between guitars and pulsing synths. 'Did You Come?' builds from the same chord progression with a more indie rock approach and girl's typically candid lyrical POV, although the continuing motif in its recycled instrumental suffers diminishing returns.
Recent single 'You Stupid Bitch' is a better example of the same style, mixing a killer pop-punk hook with Ulven's absurd humor, suggesting a potentially fruitful genre for girl in red to explore in greater detail on future releases, as opposed to the numbing Billie Eilish pastiche encountered too often throughout this debut, most overtly on lowlight 'Body And Mind'.
The opening minute of 'hornylovesickmess' is perhaps the definitive moment of the album, with a tender piano ballad beginning to unfurl that captures the wit and emotional intelligence in Ulven's self depreciating honesty for a moment of candid beauty before the song is rudely interrupted with unnecessary drum machines and synths - it's a typically overstated and telling betrayal that sums up the disconnect at the heart of if i could make it go quiet in mere seconds, and results in a track with strong potential again resorting to a weak Eilish imitation (and of her worst song, to boot).
Whereas better tracks that predated the album (this past November's exquisite holiday ballad 'two queens in a king sized bed', Chapter 2 opener 'watch you sleep') were content to allow their songwriter the space and time to explore lonely piano and acoustic guitar chords with her confessional journal entries, Ulven and Tellez' production throughout this monotonous half hour is lacking in subtlety as much as originality - ask yourself if any of these eleven tracks could hold a beacon to something like 'we fell in love in October' and the answer is obvious. Less is certainly more when it comes to building girl in red songs, even if girl herself doesn't seem to always agree with this hypothesis.
Early girl tracks were marked by a level of delicacy and care in each track that was personified in their infrequency and the ceremony of their arrival, so while there are fleeting moments of grace in the record's back half (particularly the decently consistent and complimentary duo of '.' and 'I'll Call You Mine'), taken as a whole there are too many half baked parts to if i could make it go quiet to add up to a cohesive, satisfying whole.
On the basis of girl in red's discography as a complete set to this point, it's clear that there is a wealth of potential in Marie Ulven that's well capable of evolving from this mostly inaccurate representation of her skillset. Ulven's songwriting has earned a degree of confidence and patience that will hopefully pay off down the line, but this debut will have to go down as a slight misstep that has exposed the young artists current shortcomings as a producer if nothing else, and will perhaps give fans cause to explore similar artists releasing superior material in the same calendar month as if i could make it go quiet.
There is still potentially a great album in girl in red's future, but this is not it.
5.0 / C-
Best Tracks: 'You Stupid Bitch'/'.'/'I'll Call You Mine'
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