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Album Review: Mr. Little Jeans – Pocketknife

3 min read

If you were born in Norway, currently live in Los Angeles and list your music on social media under “Korean Pop”, then chances are you’re gonna be a little different from some run-of-the-mill pop starlet. On a related note, if you pulled your alias from an obscure character in a Wes Anderson film and first came to internet notoriety through an Arcade Fire cover, chances are you already have enough indie-cred to put you a cut above the rest in the current climate of rapid popstar turnover. All of these things and more are true of the immensely talented Monica Birkenes, better known as Mr. Little Jeans who drops her long awaited debut LP Pocketknife this month.

MrLittleJeans-PocketKnifeYou’re possibly already familiar with the adorable toy-piano and children’s choir of the ‘80s inspired single Oh Sailor from just over a year ago. It went on to be featured in several ad-campaigns as well as an impressive handful of movies and TV shows. It was the first taste of a record that definitely sounds like the year since its release has been spent lovingly crafting a perfect album for both adapting to the pop culture of 2014 and showcasing Birkenes’ massive scope as an artist and uncanny gift for portraying a certain kind of darkness so breezily.

Pocketknife kicks off with Rescue Me, which builds from a pseudo-motown intro to some skittishly hurried, Postal Service-style electronica – all with her beautifully layered harmonies at the fore throughout. Second track Mercy wouldn’t be entirely out of place on a collection of Imogen Heap rarities and is somehow simultaneously airy and brooding but still it has a sound and overall feel that belongs to Mr. Little Jeans and Mr. Little Jeans alone.

Runaway is a technicolor ‘80s workout with all the massive drums and washy vocal reverbs that come with such territory and after Oh Sailor sits neatly in the record’s sequence at track 4, the simmering synths, drum machine wizardry and strange, steel-drum sounds of Don’t Run sit well together and maintain Pocketknife’s perfectly executed agenda of sweetly delivered sadness.

Lead single Good Mistake wears its Lykke Li influence pretty boldly on its sleeve with its whispered vocals juxtaposing lush harmonies and arpeggiators. It’s also the song from which the record was named and this kind of figures since it’s a pretty great cross section of what Mr. Little Jeans is all about. That being said however, just when you think she’s going to zig, boy howdy you’d better brace yourself for a zag!

Throughout, Pocketknife picks up on the justified trend of combining electronic sounds with real, human instruments. Haunted and Lady Luck actually feel like they were played by a real-life drummer and both songs are far better off for it. Penultimate track Valentine builds from some seasick synth drones to another sublime wall of Birkenes’ breathy but still powerful vocals before the album caps off with the tender ballad Far From Home. Or so you think…

The sad fact is that, along with actual CDs themselves, are hidden tracks are going the way of the dinosaurs but it’s great to see a Gen-Y artist make such a nostalgic move as to include a few minutes silence at the end of a record’s last track then SURPRISE! Secret track! On Pocketknife, it’s a gorgeous string quartet piece with a wonderfully croaky, sensual vocal from Birkenes. It’s a wonder this wasn’t featured earlier in the record as it’s truly great and leaves you wanting more.

Pocketknife more than lives up to the promise we all heard last year in Oh Sailor and hopefully signals the start of a long, illustrious career for Monica. As Mr. Little Jeans, she’s definitely taken the time to make a record which is truly representative of her myriad of tastes and talents and it’s evidently paid off in a big, beautiful way in Pocketknife which, like the tool itself, is humble, versatile and something you really can’t afford to be without.