(Dream) Pop goes: girl in red is an amazing fountain of indie bops

Ok, so now that my headline told everyone that I am an old person, I can swoon openly for Marie Ulven aka girl in red who writes and produces gorgeous pop songs that are dark, catchy and just the right kind of music to enjoy on the dancefloor but also on on your own on lonely walks, long nights or while you’re baking something because it’s the pandemic and everyone bakes and it’s much more fun with music in the background.

Hopefully, I don’t sound condescending when I say that girl in red makes music I wish I had when I was a teenager. I love the pure joy of mixing incredibly boppy tunes and lyrics that cover teen (well, to be honest also kinda universal) anxieties, hopes and dreams. When I listen to songs like “bad idea” or “i’ll die anyway”I am back on my bed, furiously writing in my diary and cutting out band pictures from magazines to put on my wall.

She’s amazing, tell me you can watch this video without being absolutely charmed when she discovers the spider’s web.

The sheer variety of girl in red‘s songs (without losing what makes her unique) also makes you giddy of what’s to come. And as much as I love the dark & sad songwriting school of young indie pop artists, I truly adore that girl in red has this whole optimistic, airy vibe that puts a spring in your step.   

You know those people who at some point say music is not what it used to be? Well, thank god for that because music nowadays is amazing and I feel like there’s a lot more freedom to explore different genres, themes and directions to express yourself and that’s truly beautiful. Just like girl in red‘s music.

Favourite Songs: Matt Sweeney & Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy’ ‘My Blue Suit’

I adore love songs that can be about more than romantic relationships. The absolutely gorgeous, sad, moving, timeless “My Blue Suit” is the kind of song that might be about someone giving their all to their partner as well as about a parent seeing so much potential in their kid and loving them because they still can be and do everything and everything is ahead of them, a future full of wonders and big emotions and whirlwinds. Especially when it comes to surrendering everything, this does remind of many parents who give up so much to let their kids have a better life.

You know, I read so many stories about people coming to America and working double shifts and safe every penny, so their kids could go to college. There is a bittersweet episode in “Master of None” (yeah, I know but it is a good episode) about parents and their “ungrateful” kids who got all the chances and then turned out to be Comedians and get arts degrees. It’s funny but also moving because often, you only realize later how hard it was for your parents (but also: if you had abusive parents – fuck them).

Anyways, this song makes me feel all the feelings. It’s the kind of song that will hit you like a brick with all the emotions, memories and whatever you read into the lyrics. Also: I would love to have a well fitting blue suit.

Songs from the Inbox: Nuns of the Tundra – Heavy stuff, mates

In Germany, we have the wonderful description of music that throws a punch: “was’n brett” (what a plank – yeah, it translates poorly). Nuns of the Tundra throw punches, planks and riffs right at you. Nuns of Tundra are from Bristol and describe their philosophy as “loosen hips and blow off faces” – how rude.

The band consists of Tom (bass), Daniel (guitar), Finn (drums) and Troy (vocals and guitar). Their older tunes are heavy stoner rock probably inspired just a tiny bit both by Masters of Reality and the Desert Sessions. In fact, “Signs of Blood” is a fantastic little song that sounds like Josh Homme tried to write a Sparks-song – and it works. I am kind of obsessed with it.

From the three songs of the upcoming album “The World’s Gone Crazy and So Have I” the band let me pre-listen, I particularly enjoyed “Gods and Wine” even though I am an atheist and don’t drink alcohol, so the song has to be good, right? It’s leaning a lot more towards metal and dips less into the sandy desert but it works, especially when they lean into the “heavy” part of metal. I love myself a good wall of noise to drown out the news, am I right.

Their new album will be released on March 19th and since no one can go on concerts currently, I recommend buying the album instead to support them.

(C’est la vie? More like c’est la heavy – *drum roll)

Favorite Song: The Staves ‘Good Woman’ – inhale, exhale, feel the warmth

Ooooooh, that low hum, that sweet low hum and then a song that has a bit of Fleetwood Mac and then a little more and then the production throws in a bit of background conversations because this is somewhat escapism, a warm Summer day, you’re going out of your house, there’s people (everyone is vaccinated) and you look great and you feel good and you strut your stuff.

The lyrics hint at my favorite sort of break-up song which is the one that’s beyond the tears and the sobs and has worked its way straight through the realization that you will get through this because you haven’t lost a thing, you’re still good and your heart is strong and you are magic, baby.

The Staves are from England (miss you, England) and they are an indie folk trio of sisters and their current album (which is the 5th studio album) was just released under the name “Good Woman” and having heard a few songs from it, it’s a beautifully produced, very airy, light album that will carry you a while on dark days.

Favorite Song: Suad ‘Faces’ – Restless dreams, restless minds

I have this Spotify-Playlist that is basically a deep-felt yearning I have since I can remember. The playlist is called “Roadtrip Melancholy” and features a rag-tag mixture of songs that share nothing really but make me feel like I need to pack my bags, get a haircut and leave town to move somewhere else, somewhere close to the sea, wait tables at a cheap diner, fall in love with someone who doesn’t speak much but has eyes as deep as the hole in my heart and never ever tell them about all that lying awake at night restless, thinking of them and just live with that unspoken desire, make it my own, like a heavy coat or the last memories of a dream that showed me what I always wanted and needed but that crumbles as I wake up and just leaves me feeling like I lost something irreplaceable.

Anyways, Suad’s opener to her very good album “Waves” is the kind of song that you can read so much into but it touches that yearning but what kind of yearning is up to the listener. For Suad, it might be about repeating past mistakes, wanting yet not daring to look back, maybe because looking back would be to admit defeat, maybe because it would turn you to stone, maybe it would remind you of what you lost.

Suad Khalifa is a Finnish artist and of course she is from Finnland, where pop music is a banger on the dance floor but also is there to secretly hex you, so you wake up one day with naked feet on a beach because a sea witch called to you. Suad herself says that she writes very intuitively and I guess that’s the magic behind lyrics that seem so precisely about something very intimate, very specific and at the same time touch everyone differently and tenderly beckon something out of their grasp.

Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou ‘May Our Chambers Be Full’ – A match made in witches’ circles

You know, it is time for some sludge metal, it’s been a long while that any metal band graced this obscure blog. I blame my love for 80s pop which is probably the anti-thesis to metal from the deepest, darkest depths of the world. The album is a collaboration of Emma Ruth Rundle, singer songwriter with a certain goth affiliation, you know, the horse girl that only lives for the horses of the apocalypse, and Thou, a sludge metal that is – quite honestly – too spooky for me. I am not superstitious, but I am also not just willy-nilly going to listen to music that surely will conjure up a demon to taunt me.

However, “May Our Chambers Be Full” is a fantastic beast, a dangerous, powerful and dark beast that sounds like the kind of music you hear in an 80s vampire movie, just about when our red-cheeked protagonist descends the stairs to that illegal party where everyone is kinda dressed up like old-fashioned aristocracy or kinky bikers. You know, the kind of music that plays shortly before the pure gets corrupted, muahaha! And I am not just going by the music, here. With songs like “Killing Floor” and Magical Cost this collaboration is not trying to bury ironic layers between lyrics and music. This is an album that’s going to draw your tender soul into a dark forrest, dress it in animal hides and swirls it around blue fires at night. Enjoy it.

Graeme James ‘The Weight of Many Winters’ (EP) – How about some sadness in a tea cup?

It’s been quite a while that I sat down and listened to a sad guitar song by a songwriter with a vulnerable voice and lines that start as a melody and then end being uttered, like a bitter thought in a grim theatre play. But here we are, in the early hours of January 2021 and here’s the EP “The Weight of Many Winters” by Graeme James, a busker turned professional musician (although, technically, since buskers make their income through their music, they are professional musicians as well).

It’s the kind of album that’s nearly fallen out of time. At least for me. Throughout the 00s, especially the later 00s, I listened to tons of folksy, sad and warm albums but since I moved to Berlin, I got drawn more and more to the neon lights of pop music that references the dangerously sexy 80s and I hardly ever looked back. But this is a gorgeous little EP, with all the ingredients, I love because they warm my heart. A violin fading out into the night, a banjo strumming before James nearly angry starts singing “The Voyage of the James Caird” (a song that, incidentally, almost feels like it at some point wanted to be a synth pop song but only had folk instruments lying around).

The strength of this EP lies in the quiet moments because those are the ones that create a real closeness. At times, it is a little too smooth in the production and I wish it would have held back a bit with the growing, grand moments (yes, it’s absurd, I usually love pathos, but Daniel Norgren and his minimalist soundscapes ruined me when it comes to music that sounds like you’re packed in a small cabin in the middle of the woods to just clear your head with the isolation of the trees and birds around you – leave it just grimy enough that you hear the floorboards creek).

It’s still a lovely little EP.

Oh, also, apparently, Graeme drew the cover art himself which I really love, it was actually the reason I listened to the EP in the first place, yes, I am a visual person, how did you know?

Favourite Song: Kings of Leon ‘The Bandit’ – Between yearning and contentment

Damn, does anyone who was a super big fan of “The Bucket” still get exited over new Kings of Leon releases? I feel like the fans of early KoL are completely detached from the fans of the current KoL and vice versa. But here’s the thing: if you ignore the squeaky clean production and bigger – much bigger – pathos of the current KoL, you still have that yearning, that heart-pumping yearning, like there surely is something out there, something waiting for you, something bigger, something exciting.

“The Bandit” is a gorgeous but also sad song. The lyrics might read like a lone ranger’s heatstroke diary entry in the middle of the desert but could just as well be about addiction and how straining it is to search that feeling of the first high, or maybe even something better, something purer. Maybe I am completely off here but lines like “And they’re walking around, with their heads in the clouds screaming, must catch the bandit, reckless abandon, rundown and stranded”, sound a lot like the worst days you might have as an addict, when you already see yourself, loath yourself but can’t help yourself.

It’s also a song that feels at its core like the – in my humble opinion – masterpiece “Because of the Times”, an album that already shed its skin of the early garage rock to create a Springsteen-esque roadtrip masterpiece of incredible songwriting, storytelling and a tugging war between the life of fame the band already had at that point and the dreamy short stories of a typical (very masculine) and aimless youth in rural America.

It’s a bit of a shame that this promising glimpse into the upcoming album is followed by a little bit of a snooze-fest called “100.000 people” a love song that sounds tired and exhausted, as if waiting for all this was maybe just a tiny bit too long. That chorus of neverending “you do”s alone makes me look at my watch, sigh audibly and drum my fingers. Or maybe it’s just the sound of contentment, which can be an awful bore if you’re not the one who’s content but the one who was invited over for tea.

Songs from the Inbox: Kima – up and coming British pop and RnB

This entry has been a bit longer in the making since some “left on read”-mails but now we’re all set. Kima is a British songwriter who contacted me due to a lovely pop-song that would fit perfectly on the “Love Actually”-soundtrack, it has this great epic Christmas/Winter-pop-ballad feel (think of Natasha Bedingfield or Leona Lewis) and that orchestral arrangement is the kind of pathos I adore. The song was written during lockdown and is supposed to give a little hope to everyone who felt/feels down like a clown in a drown pound during this time of isolation.

(Honestly, this is the kind of pop song that’s on my morning-playlist)

Kima has recently released a song for a charity project for homeless people (Shelter). It has been a hard year for all of us due to the pandemic but homeless people have suffered immensely because there were fewer people in the cities to give them some money but also, due to social distancing measures, etc. it was a lot harder for charity organisations to work with the people in need, since they often could not afford all the measures that we could take in all our privilege.

I also did a small mail interview with Kima, which you can read here because why not?

Did staying mostly at home influence the way you write songs? Did it change the way you look at your music? Was it harder/easier?

Staying at home actually did change the way I write songs! I think it made the process a lot easier, because I had so much more time to just ‘be’. Since I was reflecting so much on things that have happened in my life, my values and priorities, and the world seemed to be crashing and burning around us all – there was so much content to write about and so much time to write. I also found it really therapeutic, because the beginning of lockdown was quite scary. I’ve had to shield for 5 months because I’m considered to be at ‘extreme risk’ to getting coronavirus. At first seeing all the news headlines about the virus was absolutely terrifying! So writing music at my piano was my escape. 

Your new single “If nobody told you” is a total bop! I wondered whether you had a specific person/audience in mind when you wrote it? (Like a person you want to adress)

I wrote my new single, ‘If Nobody Told You’, as an inspirational piece to help lift people’s spirits after long periods of isolation during lockdown. While shielding in my house and with so much craziness is happening in the world, (coronavirus, the Black Lives Matter protests), it’s so easy to feel powerless. This song is written from God’s perspective and it reminds me of how God sees me, and how He sees you too. It was a reminder to me and everyone that we’re still loved, we’re still powerful, we’re still heard. We can make a lot of impact from our own homes.

Also, how did you produce it? Can you talk a bit about the process from first idea to finished song? Was it all home produced (aka lockdown-studio?)

Thankfully I have a home studio set up! It’s suuuper basic and is essentially just a laptop, microphone, audio interface and reflection filter but it’s good enough that I can record full on singles from there. I work with a producer who lives in Birmingham, so for this song I did a first draft on Logic Pro of what I wanted it to sound like, with the strings and the orchestral feel. Then I sent it to him and he added his magic to it!

If you were to write an album, would you want to stick to a genre or rather explore different musical avenues?

I would definitely explore! I’m planning on releasing an EP in early 2021, and it will definitely be ‘multi-genre’, I have been described as ‘genre bending’ and I absolutely love that title. There are so many different sounds that influence my music. Being in the Welsh National Youth Opera when I was younger made me fall in love with classical music. Then at home, the sounds of Motown music and gospel defined my childhood. So I have a wide array of influences, which definitely reflects in my music. I did previously struggle with the thought of not having one specific “sound”, but I think that’s such a closed and archaic way to approach music. I think a degree of variety within an artist is authentic and also really interesting for listeners too! They’ll never know exactly what to expect.

I am also super interested how performing for youtube differs from performing on stage. Does it change the way you sing, do you have to prepare differently?

This is such a good question! I think performing for videos is a lot more laid-back and relaxed. I’m aware that if I’m doing too much, or too expressive, it might come across strangely on camera and I might look like a bit of a psychopath. But in real life, on stage, there are no limits. I can literally be as crazy as I want (well, nearly as crazy as I want to be!).

Also, I am obsessed with Wales (spent an exchange year there and will never shut up about it), what would the three hot spots in Pontypridd be? Just in case, we’ll ever get to travel again.

Oooh what a cool question! I think it’s awesome that you spent a year in Wales! I mean, Ponty is a small town but there are still some things to see and do. If you go, check out the Old Bridge which, when it was built, was the longest single spanning bridge in Europe. Pontypridd has a lot of beautiful countryside, which I think people forget, so do take the time to go for walks.   

Favorite Song: Valerie June ‘You and I’ – friendship is magic

If I ever get drawn in by a cult that lures in people with beautiful songs and angelic wardrobes, I hope they can even remotely reach the kind of bliss I feel when I listen to June Valerie’s new song “You and I”, a love song for a friendship that developed after the romantic relationship didn’t work out (if I correctly interpret the lyrics “when the love left just a friendship that’s when we found our greatest gift”). According to June, the song is about the beauty of love in all relationships which I adore because everything but romantic love usually gets the short straw when it comes to songwriting.

The song is a gorgeous art pop slice of cotton candy and only the softest guitar strings gliding over June’s soft vocals. June is from Memphis Tennessee and yes, there are quite a few influences from country and (Appalachian) folk music. I have no idea why I haven’t posted anything about her earlier because I already fell in love with her previous albums, especially “The Order of Times” from 2017 is gorgeous.

“You and I” can be found as a sort of EP/Maxi Single together with the equally lovely song “Stay” which is leaning more towards the soul/gospel side of her music and laments the half-life period of relationships and life in general. Also, the interlude is a flute’s midsummer night’s dream, it’s like wandering into some sort of Narnia, but without the heavy religious symbolism.

And because it’s close to Christmas and this year has been hard, Valerie June gifted us with a whole music video for the entire EP. Enjoy.