Mall Girl 2024
Photo: Vilde Nordheim Evensen / Warmth

Pure Bliss on Mall Girl’s Striking New Album ‘Pure Love’

Mall Girl are in a category of their own. The art-pop trio possess so much potential, and Pure Love is one of the most exciting releases of the new year.

Pure Love
Mall Girl
Jansen Records
26 January 2024

Mall Girl released Pure Love before Valentine’s Day as if on cue. But instead of celebrating love and feeling swept off your feet, the Norwegian trio capture the growing pains of being in your mid-20s. They describe Pure Love as a “breakup album”. With the same stroke, the outfit challenges pop conventions with a unique blend of math rock, Midwest emo, indie pop, and jazz. While this genre cross-contamination may sound strange–its execution at risk of being contrived, too obvious, or uneven–the Oslo group find a perfect balance, making for one of the most exciting releases of the new year. 

Mall Girl comprises vocalist Bethany Forseth-Reichberg, guitarist Iver Armand Tandsether, and drummer Veslemøy Narvesen. Two years ago, the band released their exciting full-length debut Superstar, which received positive feedback from TIME and the Guardian. Forseth-Reichberg and Tandsether discovered an affinity for Midwest emo and math rock, especially the intricate guitar work. In talking about her influences for Pure Love, Forseth-Reichberg says she forced her bandmates to listen to Big Thief‘s “Simulation Swarm” repeatedly. She states that seeing Adrianna Lenkart in concert changed her life and “opened up a new pathway in my musical brain”.

Pure Love opens with concertgoers shuffling into their seats as an orchestra tuning. The chatter fades as a janky, wide-stepping riff drops out of nowhere, interrupting the calm, harmonious hum of strings. The band describe their opening track, “Inzane”, as a rock symphony, the longest song they have ever written. Mall Girl keep listeners engaged during the five-and-a-half runtime by covering a wide decibel range. The main riff slaps hard, but during the verses, the lead guitar hushes for Forseth-Reichberg, who sings, “Do you see how you hurt my feelings? Do you feel the tide is coming?” She makes these questions sound like assertions.

Her delivery is confident, frustrated, and in your face. The hits from the group propel her voice into the hook, and it’s magnificent–punctuated with string stabs: “Something about you makes me go insane.” Forseth-Reichberg emphasizes the last word, layering the vocals and turning frustration into hysteria. Before the bridge, Tandsether steps up for an overdriven guitar solo only to switch to a clean channel later on for some jazz flourishes. You would not expect to hear a “real” guitar solo, but it feels organic due in part to Tandsether’s humble execution and raw talent. 

Partly labeled as pop, Mall Girl squash expectations by being able to play their instruments expertly. Tandsether, for example, writes face-melting guitar parts and can fingerpick. Adjacent to him, the drummer Narvensen has a light, feathery feel on the kit, one that suggests she’d be able to show up to a jam session and play jazz standards with the cats. The centerpiece and the group’s most pop-defining characteristic is Forseth-Reichberg and her incredible vocals. Her melodies are infectious and powerful, proving indelible when away from the album. Moreover, her lyrics have a charming playfulness. Songs “Cool Bubbly Drink”, “Feel Like Crying”, and “Poolside Person” from their debut stand out as a template.

“All I Should Have Said” begins with a shoegaze jam before Forseth-Reichberg enters–vulnerable and passionate. She sings about missing a lover and the pangs of regret. Next is the glowing “Energy Lights”, one of Pure Love‘s highlights. Its intoxicating chorus, crafted with guitar interplay, makes this track a required repeat listen. “English Breakfast” is a cutesy number (“All I want is to drink some tea and hang out in your garden with a breakfast meal”), only to be outdone by the sticky “Glu Myself 2 U”. Continuing down the tour of hits, “Inside Out” and “Emo Shred” appear. Though they are enjoyable for their own reasons, this is where the praise ends. Disappointedly, the bookend title track isn’t as celebratory or epic as the introduction, ultimately coloring the whole album experience. Yet, this shortcoming shadows the record’s rewarding beginning and middle. 

One of the singles, “Super Lazy Girl”, is another highlight and showcases Forseth-Reichberg’s fickle and tongue-in-cheek narrative. Forseth-Reichbeg sings about being drawn to short-term relationships because long-term relationships require too much work. “It’s easier to find a rando and spend the night than to give love a real go,” she sings over plaintive fingerpicking. When the song reaches its peak, it is spectacular—the drummer chugs along, keeping the tempo slow and steady while the guitars throb in synchronized pulses. This section, also similar to “Energy Lights”, is powerful, sounding like it could have come from slowcore luminaries Duster. 

Pure Love is loaded with hits–songs with infectious vocal melodies, playful lyrics, and impressive guitar and drum work. Their second release feels more refined and cohesive than their debut, which sometimes felt busy and disjointed. But here, for the most part, the songs flow smoothly into one another without excessive noodling or jarring time signatures–sometimes accessibility pitfalls of ordinary math rock bands. But Mall Girl are in a category of their own. The Scandinavian art-pop trio possess so much potential, and Pure Love is one of the most exciting releases of the new year. To put my feelings about this album succinctly and compel American listeners, Pure Love is pure bliss.

RATING 8 / 10