When Girl in Red released ‘I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend’ in 2016 she quickly became part of a larger bedroom-pop pack, full of introspective indie musicians writing lo-fi songs that touched a nerve. These were tracks hard-wired to growing up and the giddy excitement of falling in love for the first time. Writing through the lens of their own personal experience, many of these artists also captured the particulars of navigating these moments as a young queer person, including Marie Ulven, aka Girl in Red, whose early tracks skewered it with precision.
“I don’t wanna be your friend / I wanna kiss your lips,” Ulven sang on ‘I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend’, touching on the difficulty of navigating potential relationships with wobbly boundary lines. Subsequent singles ‘Say Anything’ and ‘Girls’ delved further, incorporating subtle gender-flips and dismissing coming-of-age narratives. “No, this is not a phase, or a coming of age,” she sang on the latter, “this will never change.”
As a result, Girl in Red was ceremoniously inducted into a talented, if not especially diverse, wave of so-called ‘queer pop’ alongside the likes of Snail Mail, Clairo and King Princess. Marie Ulven has wholeheartedly embraced it. After “do you listen to Girl in Red” morphed into a jokily coded way of asking a different question online – are you queer? – Ulven made a line of charity merch bearing the slogan to raise money for the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, a non-profit protecting the human rights of Black transgender people.
On her debut album proper, ’If I Could Make It Go Quiet’, Girl in Red turns down the smouldering sense of yearning that fizzled at the core of her earlier material and turns up the volume instead. You sense that many of these songs have been written with the distant dream of a jostling live show in mind. Inspired by a well-known line from Stephen Chbosky’s 1999 Bildungsroman novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower – ‘we accept the love we think we deserve’ – ‘You Stupid Bitch’ is possibly the rowdiest thing Ulven has put her name to. “You stupid bitch, can’t you see / The perfect one for you is me,” she declares, rage giving way to longing. Guitars wail like disappearing sirens and chop across impatient tapping snares, bringing to mind ‘Silent Alarm’-era Bloc Party.
’If I Could Make It Go Quiet’ often draws heavily from the early noughties era of restless indie-rock. A biting accusation addressed to a cheating partner, ‘Did You Come’ sips from a strange cocktail of uneasy drums and huge echoing keys in the vein of the long-dissolved Texas indie band Voxtrot, Ontario’s fidgety Born Ruffians and The Postal Service. Ulven’s lyrics are bitter, unfiltered diary extracts. “Did you do the things you learned,” she asks over a rolling snare, “roll your tongue, make her come twenty times?” Ulven’s lyrical voice is incisive and often coloured by a self-aware wit, but musically ’If I Could Make It Go Quiet’ feels occasionally lacking in invention. Instead, it possesses a certain familiarity and at times the lurking sensation of re-treading a well-worn path in slightly different shoes.
This debut is a far more interesting prospect where it veers into wonky, widescreen takes on indie-rock, taking the tried-and-tested formula for a stone-cold banger and twisting it. Produced by Billie Eilish’s sibling and collaborator FINNEAS, ‘Serotonin’ is Girl in Red’s boldest song to date, wrestling with intrusive thoughts and emotional numbness. A warped beat judders out of a swamp as whispering voices lurk beneath. The song closes with a stream of consciousness from Ulven: “I felt a little heavy and weird in my body,” she says in Norwegian. ‘Midnight Love’, a rich shimmer of plucked strings and plaintive piano, mulls over the regret of hooking up with somebody who’s clearly uninvested in a blossoming relationship, while instrumental closer ‘It Would Feel Like This’ ties the record up beautifully.
A cinematic widening of scope, ’If I Could Make It Go Quiet’ occasionally leans back on some blockbuster tropes, but in the stand-out moments Ulven proves that she’s more than capable of rabble-rousing indie-rock and slow-burning yearning alike.
Release date: April 30
Release label: AWAL