by Ben Bonadies
Photo Courtesy of Facebook
Monica Birkenes, better known by her alias Mr. Little Jeans, appeared on the Brighton Music Hall stage about as unceremoniously as possible. She peered inquisitively out of the door behind the drum kit before sauntering up to the microphone. I was reminded of a conversation Birkenes and I had over the phone nearly a week ago about her tour rider. Birkenes says her green room requests usually consist of some hummus and bottled water; “pretty boring” even by her own admission.
It’s odd then, that someone who can come off so utterly low-key could produce an electrifying performance. Her voice is a swift and agile lilt, easily dipping into her lower register and then leaping back up for an energetic yelp. It’s the platonic ideal of pop singer vocals: playful and energetic while remaining confident and in control.
Birkenes was born and raised in Grimstad, Norway and, like many of her Scandinavian forebears like Robyn, Miike Snow and Lykke Li, fully embraces pop aesthetics while adding a dark tint to the synths and drums that has become the en vogue sonic palette of the 2010s. She polished this sound on 2016’s F E V E R S EP, which is full to the brim with glittery synths, big tribal drums and hooks for days. Gone are the covers that dotted her debut, 2014’s Pocketknife. While her trip-hop take on Arcade Fire’s track “The Suburbs” remains one of her biggest hits, Birkenes has no intention of making her name on the backs of other artists’ songs.
“It wasn’t rewarding for me,” she said of her cover of the band’s 2010 song, “I really really really love it but I feel like I didn’t accomplish anything.”
Birkenes is a writer, through and through, with a knack for pop melody and lyricism. Her lyrics toe the line between journal entry and the Sia approach of “so ambiguous it’s relatable.”
“It’s very self-involved and self serving, what I do,” she said. “I’m just trying to describe a situation or an emotion that I’m feeling...even if it’s kind of vague.”
But Birkenes says she would also be interested in moving beyond personal and flex her film-scoring muscles. She landed herself on the Iron Man 3 soundtrack and wants to do more.
“It’s really nice to have somebody else’s story,” she said. As for what kind of film she’d like to work on, she said, “Something visually, aesthetically, cool looking” suits her.
Birkenes’ stage presence cannot be overlooked, either. Each song was punctuated by alone-in-my-bedroom style dance moves that she somehow managed to make cool. Her charm on stage was key to warming up the Sunday night crowd, eventually winning them over enough to get people in the front row to sing into the microphone. The driving synth behind show closer “Good Mistake” got even the wallflowers bopping heads and tapping feet. F E V E R S single “Stitches” was a delight as well, Birkenes’ voice tense and low in the verse before breaking into full release on the “ooh-oohs” in the chorus. She even did her “Suburbs” cover with such confidence the crowd momentarily forgot Win Butler ever existed.
After an all-too-brief 45-minute set, Birkenes waved goodbye and crept back into that door she had sheepishly looked out of at the start of the show.