Ida Maria

Fortress 'Round My Heart

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"Oh My God" was one of 2008's most explosive and ear-catching singles, a burst of punky guitar pop propelled by an electric vocal performance from 23-year-old Norwegian breakout star Ida Maria Sivertsen. "Oh, you think I'm in control," she taunts, her voice teasing out the tension between commanding authority and unhinged chaos -- she sounds at once powerful and vulnerable, ready to collapse or destroy at any moment. If the rest of Fortress Round My Heart can't hope to match the searing intensity of its calling card, much of it is nearly as engaging, both musically and emotionally. Sivertsen turns out to be as generous with hooks as she is vocally captivating, and although her loud-mouthed, liquored-up confessionals can sometimes grow grating, they're more often than not genuinely affecting. Wisely, she keeps things pretty peppy, with plenty of giddy rave-ups (the best being "Louie," "Queen of the World," and the cheeky "I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked") and only a few (less memorable) moments of downtempo tenderness (the ballad "Keep Me Warm," addressed to her coffee and cigarettes). Throughout, she offers an endearing mixture of pop sweetness and punky toughness, writing with honesty and humor on a prototypically rock & roll slate of subjects: lust, loneliness, desperation, booze, and God. That last, obliquely invoked in the opener, crops up again in the curious allegory-song "Stella," which imagines Him falling for an aging hooker and offering her the world (literally) for her affections. In the album's so-so, overly sober finale, "See Me Through," she addresses the deity directly, asking "When's the time for me?" Listeners will have to wait and see on that score, whether she grows up and calms down or if age only sharpens her rage, but for all her all-too-human flaws, with a set of songs this strong, it's safe to say her time has already arrived.

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