For those who ‘get it’, when the music identified as ‘indie pop’ plays on the radio – or, in select locations, through nightclub speakers – listeners might react in a number of ways. They might skip down a road with abandon; do that awkward ‘indie disco dance’ in a bar; or just beam a smile, quite involuntarily, for the bright, enthusiastic joie de vivre is just too much happiness for one person to take. With that in mind, Oslo’s Making Marks will thrill such people into ‘indie pop’. Or infuriate those who are not.
Making Marks started out a couple of years ago, and they’ve already bagged support slots with the likes of Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and Allo’ Darlin (Paul Rains from the latter contributes lap steel during Barcodes). The quartet’s debut, A Thousand Half-Truths, is full of either affecting ballads and slow waltzs or bubbly, uptempo tunes. It is not revolutionary. But it is enjoyable, and the songs themselves never outstay their welcome. For the most part, Making Marks know their way around decent melodies and hooks, and show glimmers of personality in their music.
Their music has all the hallmarks of twee. For giddyness, see the buoyant Forgive And Forget or Falling In Love Again, the latter of which sees the narrator so taken in by desire that he “hasn’t slept since the 22nd November”. For cutesy, there’s the swoonsome Uten En Tråd (Without A Thread in English) – the only song sung in their native tongue – and the title track, just for the line “no phone’s too smart for you”. For maximum emoting, both Like Spinning and effective closer Flying High Forever have plenty of sincerity.
However, it’s the recurring themes of A Thousand Half-Truths that act as Making Marks’ USP. There are several references to travelling, whether it’s by train, bus or plane. This even goes as far as a couple of track titles (Ticket Machine and Flying High Forever). The starry-eyed Barcodes goes one step further and references their hometown, and its killer lyric “Let’s go out tonight, let’s hit the financial district” sounds like something left over from Jens Lekman‘s notebook. From a narrative perspective, it grounds the album in the band’s world, and does nothing to harm the broad appeal of their songs. If anything, it makes the LP even more charming.
A Thousand Half-Truths could have done with more of those qualities. As pleasant as this is, there isn’t a showstopper that’s going to make anyone stand up and take notice. That’s a shame when the record is so beautifully paced and repeatedly willing to add adventurous instrumental flourishs hither and thither. There’s also a prevailing shyness, especially in the vocals. There’s no question that, in particular when vocalists Ola Innset and Nina Bø are both singing in unison, the performances are sweet-natured, but they lack emotional weight at times.
Still, there’s plenty of promise to be found in Making Marks. There’s just enough whimsy and decent melodies to make it a worthwhile – and easy – listen. It’s difficult to tell at this very early stage of their career whether this sound is something they can develop further. Maybe they’ll just keep doing this for a few years – either delighting or disappointing along the way. Or maybe it’s best not to overthink it and just enjoy A Thousand Half-Truths for what it is: a decent indie pop album.