If you’re over 25, you can’t avoid feeling a little pervy listening to Program 91, the fresh-voiced, indie-ska-dance debut from a band of Norwegian 20-year-old women. Its bright, dewy textures suggest hopes as yet undashed, excitement not yet turned blasé, heartbreaks that are — even as they hurt — kind of a rush. The songs can’t wait to get wherever they’re going, can’t wait to find out what’s next, can’t be bothered to self-examine. The sense of youth is so palpable, you can almost smell the Clearasil. Even “Vondt I Hjertet,” which, by the way, translates as “Pain in Heart”, bounds ahead on borrowed Phil Spector drum booms, fidgets and twitches with upbeat-heavy guitars. The pain is no more than a sad face emoticon in a fleeting text message. The optimism floods through this song like a hormone surge at a high school cafeteria table. If you are anywhere past college, this is not for you, not anymore, and spending too much time on Program 91 feels like ogling the short shorts parade as the girls get off the school bus. (This, and also the album under review, is probably more fun if you’re male.)
But OK, that’s what they’re selling, so feel free to gawk. You can start with the skinny, flawless legs that adorn the album’s cover, and move from there to the sweet rush of Marie Amdam’s soprano. Linger (though you pretend not to) over the endearing catch of the girl’s accent as she confides the bubbliest sort of inanities. “Why’d we have to wait so long / People say we’re far too young,” for instance, has surely been used before, once or a hundred times, as a girl-group lyric. Admire how god-damned clean these four sound, their aesthetic a fresh-scrubbed, red-cheeked version of Two-Tone ska. And forget about The Slits comparisons. The idea of these wholesome post-teenagers naked, covered in mud — hell, even slightly sweaty — is simply incomprehensible. This is a slightly exotic variety of bubblegum. It’s given cachet, maybe, by the rattling, rushing, backslashing reggae rhythm and the faint ESL awkwardness of the lyrics, but it’s bubblegum all the same.
So, enjoy it if you will, and forget it if you like. The stakes couldn’t be lower. Before you wear out your current pair of jeans or buy another car, these girls will be on to adult life, possibly in music, but most likely involving kids and real jobs. Youth, the demographic, is always fascinating. “Youth” the song is somewhat less so, and only because it comes from a phase of life that we can barely remember.