Playful, sexual, loving and sad — the debut album from Norwegian singer-songwriter Girl in Red is all of these things. Girl in Red, or Marie Ulven, first rose to fame from past singles like “I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend” (2017) and “We Fell In Love In October” (2018), and has since become a popular icon of queer pride. But her album, “If I Could Make It Go Quiet” (2021) proves that she has the artistry to back up her symbolic status.
“If I Could Make It Go Quiet” returns to the familiar low-fi guitar riffs and catchy hooks that have characterized Girl in Red’s music since she started producing it in her bedroom in 2016, but the tracklist elaborates on the previous themes and styles of her music, twisting them into something fresh.
The opening song, “Serotonin,” is different from anything she has made before. With indie/alternative singer-songwriter Finneas as one of the song’s main producers, the track deviates from her normal style. There is an edge to the music as Ulven sings, “I get intrusive thoughts like cutting my hands off/ Like jumping in front of a bus/ Like how do I make this stop,” and wonders if her therapist hates her, blaming her chemical imbalance of serotonin for “twisting things.” The track is one of the best she has ever made, and the rest of the album features an impressive collection of songs to go with it.
Upbeat, spirited rock songs like the sexually charged “Did You Come?” and the guitar-heavy “You Stupid Bitch” are comedic, but also biting as Ulven sings lyrics like “You stupid bitch, can’t you see?/ The perfect one for you is me.” But as “You Stupid Bitch” comes to a close, the following track, “Rue,” opens and clarifies that Ulven’s use of guitar has evolved. The guitar in “Rue” adds an edge to sobering lyrics like “I hate the way my brain is wired/ Can’t trust my mind, it’s such a liar/ Believe me when I say/ I can’t carry the weight.”
Similarly, “Body And Mind” covers more of Ulven’s struggle with mental illness over an instrumentation style previously unheard in her music. “Body And Mind” sticks out from the rest of the album because of this and the intense angst that shapes its lyrics.
But there is another side to the album: a softer side tinted with sadness and romance. The epitome of this is “Midnight Love.” Ulven sings, “I can’t be your second best/ Close but not your favorite/ I keep going back for more/ Where there’s nothing from before” from the perspective of a girl she believes she mistreated in the past.
“Apartment 402” might be the true masterpiece of the album. From a production standpoint, the track builds powerfully as Ulven sings, “There’s a dissonance in all that I do/ Yeah, nothing feels right or true.” It combines the two sides of the album: energetic instrumentation underneath somber lyrics. In “Apartment 402,” Ulven seems to have matured. The quality of her voice is so different from her previous songs, and though the familiar disassociation and existentialism still haunt her lyrics, the way the song progresses is a departure from some of her past styles.
When the album finally concludes in the brief, wordless “It Would Feel Like This,” the album seems to be just the beginning of Ulven’s musical journey. Ulven has so much to say beyond the symbolic association of her stage name, and “If I Could Make It Go Quiet” hints at the breadth of her creative capabilities.
It’s a wonderful album, one of the most noteworthy of 2021 so far. Despite its brevity, the album develops a clear sense of the changing vision of Girl in Red and establishes Ulven’s true dedication to introspection. “If I Could Make It Go Quiet” fills the silence with an edge and a level of intimacy that could make it the best project of Girl in Red’s discography to date.