Ida Maria – Fortress ’round My Heart (Music Review)

Fortress 'round My Heart cover

Ida Maria - Fortress 'round My Heart

Ida Maria had one of the best pop songs of 2009 with “I Like You So Much Better When You’re Naked”. Bratty and fun on the surface, it actually revealed a deep insecurity: “I like you so much better when you’re naked/I like me so much better when you’re naked” was a brilliantly simple depiction of a pained, desperate search for validation. Though the song was excellent, I didn’t expect that the music was aimed at me, and I moved on. But encouraged by a friend who described Ida Maria as his favorite guilty pleasure of the year, I finally tried out a used copy of it.

Fortress ’round My Heart is much like “Better When You’re Naked” leads one to expect. Straightforward, punk-lite songs about youth sung by someone just old enough to offer a mature perspective on it, they never reach the highs of that single, but don’t disappoint either. The songs don’t have any great revelations (“it made me realize how much you wanna give away just to feel loved”), but are never embarrassing, either. The tinge of self-awareness and adult knowledge is subtle enough not to bother the teenagers, but makes the songs accessible to their parents as well.

Singer Ida Maria Sivertsen has a voice that manages to sound vulnerable even when it rises to a punk sneer, and is emotional and introspective when she slips into slower ballads. This goes a long way to making the songs successful, though it must also be said that her singing isn’t very strong. The shouts seem as if they’re struggling to be heard over the music, and the quieter stuff is so breathy as to almost fade away. Sivertsen’s voice defines the personality of the songs, but it would be nice if it grows stronger in future albums.

At just over 30 minutes, Fortress ’round My Heart is a little short, but never has time to wear out its welcome. While the songs are light, they are pleasantly varied enough to support that length: The Regina Spektor-esque meandering on “Queen of the World”, the 80’s-tinged dance beat on “Louie”, and the sparse, mournful singing on “Keep Me Warm” all add dimensions to a narrator who seemed simpler on “Better When You’re Naked”. That could be the thing that keeps Ida Maria from being a one-hit wonder. Whether autobiographical or not, the album does build up a consistent narrative personality, and it is one that fans could happily follow through later releases.

Grade: B-

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