(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)

Review and Lets Play: The Last Campfire is a soothing game for the lonely

At first glance, The Last Campfire looks and feels like many other cute, well-designed puzzle games that aim at both kids and adults alike. You play as Ember, a lone and seemingly lost creature trying to find their way through a mysterious world and help other Embers on their way. However, after a while, you notice how the themes of loneliness, sadness and being stuck without being able to help oneself emerge from every single, lovingly designed corner of the game. But more than that, Ember emerges as a being of incredible tenderness and empathy, helping where they can and being guided by the soothing voice of Charlotte McBurney who most people might know from the amazing but not-at-all-suitable-for-kids game “A Plague Tale”.

The developers Hello Games tried to combine inspiration from 80s kid’s shows and movies that – despite being aimed at kids – had some darker aspects to them. In an Interview with Eurogamer, Sean Murray says “We always talk about films that we’ve grown up with like ‘Labyrinth’ and ‘Dark Crystal’, and we were saying pretty much every British kids TV show in the 80s had some weird edge to it.”

Now, The Last Campfire is a lot less dark than any of those movies, so parents can relax. There are darker themes and some morbidly cute skeletons but overall the game is both visually and thematically like a soft version of the referenced material. However, when it comes to the story and the underlying themes, it really hit a nerve with me. Maybe it was/is the pandemic but it felt nearly cathartic to help stranded and stuck Embers and release them. Even more than that, it moved me incredibly whenever a newly released Ember would state that they would join us later because they needed more time.

Some even outright refuse to get help. I imagine that this is a wonderful lesson for kids (and for adults). You can offer your help but you don’t have to force it on people. Some people need time or need to find other ways to get out of whatever troubles them. At a time, when pretty much everyone suffers from some sort of emotional and mental fatique, depression, burn-out and whatnot, this is a lovely message to give. And the game feels strangely comforting because you know, all those Embers will eventually find their way.   

I absolutely loved the game and I am not too proud to admit that it made me cry towards the end. Oh, and the puzzle are great as well. Did I mention that this is a puzzle game?

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?

Horror cinema and the case of revenge, beauty and the perfect victim

Recently, everbody has been talking about “Promising Young Woman”, a promising and quite fantastic revenge thriller written and directed by Emerald Fennell and starring the always amazing Carrey Mulligan as a woman traumatized by the past abuse and subsequent suicide of her best friend.

Now, aside from the mainly positive reviews, the movie also made headlines because movie critic Dennis Harvey actually thought and even wrote in a published public review, that Mulligan is not hot enough to be convincing in the role of a femme fatale. Hilarity but also anger ensued because apart from Mulligan being pretty much the poster actress of looking gorgeous, cute and beautiful all at once, it’s astounding that the looks of any female protagonist is still under scrutiny by male critics when – let’s just not name names – the shlobbiest shlobs manage to play every single roll imaginable in every movie genre without anyone blinking an eye.

But here’s where I stumbled, when I looked at “Promising Young Woman” and the long and loving history of thriller and horror movies that feature strong women seeking for revenge: when will unattractive women be permitted to go on their revenge sprees?

Look, the horror genre in itself is unfortunately male-dominated when it comes to production, writing, directing and casting, even though at least half of the main audience is female or non-binary. So, it seems not surprising, that any female protagonist has a certain look. But even in movies that are written and directed by women, the hot protagonist is the one who gets their revenge and I really wonder whether that somehow feeds into the myth of the “perfect victim”, you know, the cognitive dissonance we have, when any victim of abuse and/or trauma is not what we expect, like they were drunk or usually have one-night-stands or are – gasp – not conventionally attractive.

Do we really still need a gorgeous woman telling the story for all women because otherwise, no one would watch it? Is it really necessary to have a beautiful woman pretend to be drunk to be taken advantage of? The answer to both questions is: no, because who the fuck cares how the actress looks when she is our catharsis and honestly, no man cares about looks when it comes to rape. That was one of the main reasons why Harvey got the metaphorical twitter beating that he deserved. But that should also be the main reason to finally give those main roles of revenge horror and thrillers to actresses who are not thin, have full lips, big eyes and just the right symmetry to be also able to play that pixie manic dream girl. Don’t hide behind the old excuses that only pretty women make for good horror and thriller heroines.

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.