One of the buzz acts at last week's SXSW, Norwegian singer Ida Maria, already has a tailwind behind her that's propelled her into critical darling status here. Now the trick is to see if she can live up to the hype. As we've seen time and time again, it's easy to crash and burn when the expectations are so high.

On her debut, "Fortress ‘Round My Heart," out digitally today, she doesn't disappoint. The punk pop songs on "Fortress," so full of tension and regret, are delivered with a fresh immediacy that makes them all the more resonant. Maria may growl like a tough chick, but she's as soft and mushy as the rest of us when it comes to love. Although only 24, Maria already has a slightly husky voice that suggests she's seen a lot of sunrises arrive from the business end of the night before.

Opening track, "Oh My God," (used in "Gossip Girl" promos) issues the warning that there's drama dead ahead, as she makes it clear that if you don't understand her panic, then you clearly don't understand the urgency of the situation.
She's got a little of Chrissie Hynde and Nico in her, but on the frenetic "Queen of the World," she recalls, oddly enough, Katrina and the Waves. Lyrically, she's certainly not walking on sunshine, but the drunken exuberance is infectious.

The novelty song and the obvious ringer here is the barreling "I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked," but the raucous sing-a-long doesn't hint at the depths she reaches on songs like on "Stella." The power pop track about a hooker, hits a nail straight to the heart when Maria sings "And it made me realize how much you wanna give away just to feel loved." 

It's the vulnerability, not the obviously cleverness, that reels the listener in. A very auspicious debut.


Maria continues her U.S. tour for the next week and then returns for Coachella.
March 24 Atlanta, GA The Loft at Center Stag
March 26 Washington, DC Black Cat
March 27 West Chester, PA The Note
March 28 Brooklyn, NY Music Hall of Williamsburg
March 30 New York, NY Webster Hall
March 31 Boston, MA Paradise Rock Club
April 18 Indio, CA Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival