The 12 (or so) Records of Xmas: Ida Maria – Fortress ‘Round My Heart

Ida Maria - Fortress Round My Heart

[a.k.a. #14 of However Many I Care to List, in No Particular Order: Albums That I Have Listened To Both Intermittently And Incessantly, That I Imagine I Will Continue To Listen To Periodically For The Remainder Of My Life, Which I Consider To Be The Seminal Works Of (Or Most Accessible Entry Points To) Musical Artists Whom I Believe Have Been Woefully Underrated And Criminally Underrepresented In The Modern Music Canon At Large, And Which Also At Some Point While Playing I Have Very Likely Been Asked To Turn Down or Turn Off]

Much of the Norwegian music to reach international audiences since the 90’s belongs to the “black metal” genre, but in the case of Ida Maria (first name pronounced EE-də), it’s all about pure rock and roll. Her debut album Fortress ‘Round My Heart showcases an artist arriving already fully formed, with a set of heartfelt, direct tunes that manage to be irresistibly catchy without coming anywhere near the cloying, insubstantial feel of modern radio pop. Think Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders or Joan Jett (of the Blackhearts).

I first heard “I Like You So Much Better When You’re Naked” on KCRW in the summer of 2009. It’s the kind of song that can’t help but make you smile when you hear it. It reminded me a bit of Katrina and the Waves, minus the potential to become a song I’d ever get sick of hearing. Soon, I figured out that Ida had played earlier that year at Coachella, the first year I’d attended, but I hadn’t known who she was when I was there and thus hadn’t made a point of attending her set, another sad case of retroactive musical FOHMO.

Luckily, I would get to catch her live twice in Los Angeles, once at The Satellite in 2012 (soon after the venue had reincarnated itself from the ashes of Spaceland), and again at the Piano Bar in Hollywood in 2014 (before it was shuttered and demolished to make way for the construction of yet another high-end hotel). Both shows were fantastic, but the latter performance, in the much smaller space, was something extremely special. Most of the audience were women, most of whom knew all the words and sang along. When she closed with the riotous album opener, “Oh My God,” she came out into the middle of the crowd, a circle of headbanging ladies surrounding her as she wailed and dropped to the floor. I stood a little further back, gaping in awe at the pocket universe of rock she had created in this little room, serving as her own personal big bang.

Ida Maria

Though songs from her first and subsequent albums have found their way onto multiple TV show, movie, and video game soundtracks (including, most appropriately, Rock Band 3), after the singles from her debut finished their rotation, the US mainstream music promo machine seems to have left her largely twisting in the wind, a shameful oversight on their part, as Ida continues to produce inventive, quality material (3 more albums and 1 EP thus far, some available to stream online, though the labels keep changing and some don’t seem to have officially received a US release).

What’s easy in the night / is always such a fight / in the morning light

Also due to the (often inexplicable) changes that occur when initially international releases are repackaged for US audiences, her debut album exists in multiple versions. I’ve embedded the “Deluxe Edition” above, which has the most tracks and a more preferable running order. She excels equally at both uptempo foot stompers and more intense, contemplative, atmospheric songs. In the second category, “Keep Me Warm,” “Drive Away My Heart,” and the live bonus track “We’re All Going to Hell” (a pitch-perfect pub-crawl end-of-night arm-in-arm sing-a-long if I’ve ever heard one) provide welcome breathing room between the tracks that’ll have you screaming and jumping up and down on your bed.

Reportedly, Ida experiences synesthesia when she hears music, seeing or feeling colors associated with different tones and sounds. She claims that when she first started playing guitar, she used color palettes to help her learn the chords to her songs. That just seems like an extraneous additional level of cool, when she was already more than cool enough already.

Ida Maria - Fortress Round My Heart (Intl Cover)
International version of the Fortress album cover… I always wonder why different covers are used for different regions, particularly when there is nothing offensive pictured and so little difference between the chosen images…

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