By Natalie Serafini, Assistant Editor
Mr. Little Jeans, or Monica Birkenes, brings catchy tunes in her new album, Pocketknife, which will drop March 25 after being available for streaming in full on March 17. The Norwegian singer/songwriter is a bit pop and a bit electronic in a mix that brings to mind the likes of Lykke Li or Imogen Heap, but which is distinctly Mr. Little Jeans. She’s previously built up buzz with a well-received cover of Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies,” and her debut album is here at last.
Pocketknife starts off on a Feisty note in “Rescue Song,” with a light, airy feel and romantic resonance. The peppy beat and dreamy layering of vocals work together wonderfully. The vocals are recorded as if at a distance—not to be muddled but to get the audience to lean in closer and truly listen. This slightly hushed, intimate tone proves to be a hallmark of Mr. Little Jeans’ music as the album progresses. “Rescue Song” bears a vague, ephemeral similarity to Feist, or the Maccabees’ “Toothpaste Kisses,” but it’s hard to say if the song actually bears any similarity or is simply so upbeat that it tugs at nostalgic heartstrings.
The album undergoes a sonic metamorphosis as it progresses, introducing more synth and bumping beats in an unforeseen turn that I couldn’t have loved more. “Mercy” teases at what’s to come while still holding onto that hint of a daydream. The hazy timbre and expert layering continue here, with all elements flowing together beautifully.
As the album matures more, Mr. Little Jeans tones down the soprano, grounding the vocals compared to the lightness of “Rescue Song.” The introduction of the Silverlake Conservatory of Music Youth Chorale on “Oh Sailor” is delightful, and a perfect song for the young singers to contribute to.
When the album climaxes at the addicting single, “Good Mistake,” the synth and bouncing beat come to full effect. It opens to a thumping rhythm and a firm guitar, with Mr. Little Jeans’ breathy voice following close behind. Dissonant chords and hushed vocals give depth to what might have otherwise been just an upbeat chorus.
If you hop between and juxtapose the songs, you might be thrown by the jarring difference. Where “Rescue Song” stays light, the album gradually digs a little deeper, gets a little darker, and feels a little more poignant. It’s an organic development if you listen song by song, with the dreamier qualities of earlier slowly twisting and warping. However, going straight from “Mercy” to “Far From Home,” I’m not sure I would recognize the tunes as coming from the same person.
Although these contrasts mean you don’t get a singular, definite impression of Mr. Little Jeans’ style, they do show range. Each song lends a different sound, but there’s cohesion in Mr. Little Jeans’ patent whispery vocals and dream-like tones. These are most haunting on her cover of Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs,” which infuses the already gripping song with a bewitching beat and evocative synth.
The album starts with a young romance in “Rescue Song” and graduates to the more mature but still catchy “Valentine.” While the album performs comfortably as background music, it doesn’t totally stay in the backseat; each song stands up to inspection, not pushing for attention but grabbing it all the same.
Catch Pocketknife, which drops March 25, for some tantalizing tunes that expertly mix light and dark.