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Mall Girl
Superstar Amanda Farah , April 29th, 2022 07:55

A lockdown album from the Oslo-based alt.rock four-piece hits all the right notes for Amanda Farah

Norwegian quartet Mall Girl join the now-legion bands to release a debut album created during a lockdown. With songs assembled from their individual parts and passed around to band members who couldn’t meet, the resulting odd ball pop of Superstar careers through different moods and paces.

There is a low key tension running through Superstar mostly manifesting as an admirable restraint. Guitarist Iver Armand Tandsether is more than capable of some prog-inspired noodling, but these tricks are mostly squeezed behind vocals or in between breaths. No solo is ever allowed to run away with itself. And with the majority of the songs clocking in under the three-minute mark, it helps to keep things from going off the rails.

Singer Bethany Forseth-Reichberg matches this dynamic well, and her charismatic vocals set the mood for each song. Some of her best delivery is also her most casual. ’Feel Like Crying’, with its staccato guitar, is light and breezy, though the title is repeated throughout the chorus. It’s a great sing along for those who aren’t great at emoting, a simple expression that doesn’t sound self-pitying for a second. That same playfulness comes out in the way her vocals ping pong in the arrangements, such as in the teasing bridge of ‘See My Soul’ and the bouncing intro of ‘Bachtap’ where Forseth-Reichberg’s vocals and Tandsether’s guitars skip over each each other (and from ear to ear in your headphones). Similarly, the contrast of her cool delivery on ‘Poolside Person’ heightens the song’s pummeling, buzzy verses.

Where the tension comes to a head is the moments that burst with an almost adolescent purity of feeling, as if an album’s worth of otherwise playing it cool can’t be fully contained. The dense, lush arrangement of ‘Machine Gun Mystery’ brings in a completely different sensory palette than Superstar’s predominantly spiky pop and Forseth-Reichberg’s most affective vocals of the album. The warbling guitar of ‘Think About It’ fades into a soft, lulling chorus and rolls into a plaintive, insistent outro. ‘Close My Eyes’, with it’s scream-along-at-the-top-of-your-voice chorus and it’s almost-guitar solo, has an unbridled enthusiasm that ends with a giggle. On an album of 90s alt-rock references, these songs in particular all feel like they could soundtrack pivotal scenes in teen movies from the decade.

Of course, even naming a band Mall Girl must hint at some affection for that youthful energy and emotion. And any disjointedness in approach could be attributed to coming-of-age, figuring yourself out experimentation as much as to lockdown songwriting arrangements. What makes for enjoyable listening is that none of these different approaches feel ill-fitting. Whatever direction they choose to follow, there is a real feeling that Mall Girl are a band at the beginning of something.