CD Reviews - Glasvegas 'Glasvegas', Ida Maria 'Fortress Round My Heart'

Glasvegas wraps authentic storytelling in a thick Scottish brogue.
Glasvegas wraps authentic storytelling in a thick Scottish brogue. (By Steve Gullick)
Friday, March 20, 2009

GLASVEGAS "Glasvegas" Columbia IDA MARIA "Fortress Round My Heart" Universal

THICKER THAN a hearty helping of haggis, lead singer James Allan's foggy brogue epitomizes Glasvegas, for better or worse; for those unable to decipher the singer's words, much of the meaning behind the band's self-titled debut will be lost in translation.

But listeners attuned to Allan's vocals will be rewarded with a mature, deeply affecting portrait of a man slowly coming to terms with an upbringing of abandonment, loss and paranoia.

It's the raw sincerity of Allan's storytelling that gives his words such a weighty punch: On "Daddy's Gone," the band's breakthrough single that won lavish praise from the mercurial British press, Allan warbles his way through the pain of growing up with a routinely absent father. "All I wanted was a kick-about in the park," he sings; he was a once-promising soccer player in the Scottish ranks, so one can understand the measure of Allan's lingering disappointment.

Despite plenty of U2 worship throughout, the quartet's shimmering, elegiac crescendos suffuse the record with a hymnal quality that removes some of the sting from what would otherwise be a seriously depressing experience. Instead, it's merely bleak, yet bitterly captivating.

After dominating airwaves overseas with the insistent "I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked," it would have been easy to dismiss Ida Maria as another pop flavor-of-the-month.

But the 24-year-old Norwegian is no Katy Perry; her debut release, "Fortress Round My Heart," is a shambolic gem of a record that is as undeniable as it is fun.

Most of her songs concern drinking or attempting not to drink but ultimately drinking anyway. "Whiskey, please. I need some whiskey, please," she pleads on the opening of "Queen of the World," before the song's chorus perfectly summates her ethos: "I'm queen of the world, I bump into things."

Maria's perfectly flawed wail, accented by the occasional yelp, is a great match for the nondescript backing band that capably provides a palette of no-frills power chords, like the raging opener, "Oh My God."

There's an appealing vulnerability to Maria mixed in with the requisite alcoholism. "Pour myself a cup of coffee full of sober nights, 'cause nicotine and coffee are my friends in this fight," she sings on "Keep Me Warm," the record's quietest moment. But knowing how much fun the rest of the record can be, maybe it's not a fight her listeners want her to win.

-- Alex Baldinger

Appearing Thursday at the Black Cat (202-667-4490, Doors open at 8.

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