Release Date: Sep 25, 2015
Record label: Rough Trade
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Lo-Fi, Noise-Rock
It’s becoming an all-too-rare thing to run into albums that take the raw material of rock music and assemble them into entirely new structures. You recognize where the pieces and ideas originated from, but you might never have dreamed of putting them together like that. This wasn’t always the case with Girl Band. The Dublin quartet’s earliest material fell squarely in the world of noise punk, with the all-male band emphasizing ragged bluster and the teeth grinding noises that guitarist Alan Duggan and bassist Daniel Fox roughly unfurl from their amps and instruments.
Girl Band recently released a dizzying batch of tracks called The Early Years, and while some listeners are still revelling in the EP's disorienting effects, others have been fiending for another hit. The noise-rock outfit's new LP, Holding Hands with Jamie, continues the band's tradition of making each release more exquisitely grotesque than the last. Early Years featured a cover of Blawan's "Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage," visualized by director Bob Gallagher as a mortician dancing with his gutted patient, and still, Holding Hands with Jamie achieves higher levels of morbid ecstasy.
When I hear someone like Girl Band it reminds me of my teenage years, hearing The Jesus & Mary Chain for the first time back in 1985. 'Why?' you might solemnly ask. Well for starters, it feels like being exposed to something from another universe entirely. Something that your parents or indeed anyone from their generation wouldn't approve.
"You just shit in my neighbour's garden!" I don't know what this lyric means. It works as a bold opening gambit to 'Baloo', and obviously makes sense on a surface level, but I don't know what it actually means. And, frankly, I don't know what any of it means: the palpable distress; the erratic clamour of its movement; the playful, largely incomprehensible yapping of frontman Dara Kiely.
Louis Wain painted cats. While those four words may seem incongruous in relation to Dublin noise-mongers Girl Band, there is a point. Examining Wain’s cats, one can see them becoming increasingly vivid, psychedelic and even threatening as his schizophrenia worsened. His mental health controlled his art.
Full of sound and fury, the debut from this Irish four-piece howls at you from the very start, an unbroken series of thumping, crashing songs strewn with fractured, imagistic lyrics. Singer Dara Kiely has talked about his struggles with mental health, and it is tempting to layer biography over these nine songs, which veer wildly from industrial shocks to math-rock repetition, and place punkish howls alongside minimal-techno impulses. The lyrics could echo the screeds of a midnight drunk or the interior meanderings of fellow Dubliner Leopold Bloom: “Creeped into an exit / He’ll have it for breakfast / Said crawl on your knees / And tasting the freshest” runs a line from Fucking Butter.
Not too long ago, following another rather sad display of desperation and mediocrity known as the MTV Video Music Awards, Rolling Stone pulled together a quick recap of the event’s ups and downs and questioned per bullet point number two: Where was the rock? The article noted that the only real guitar-oriented song awarded that evening went to Fall Out Boy’s Uma Thurman before the event was even broadcast, which offered indication that mainstream rock n’ roll in 2015 is mostly irrelevant. Personally, I just think the guitar has returned to where it sounds most necessary, beneath the sheen of sterile and super-sleek pop tones, which provide fodder for the streaming/playlist demo. I say this because I’ve heard a good amount of guitar-driven rock music in 2015 and it’s sounded to me as vital as ever, seemingly in the process of undoing its association with much of the self-important posturing of 90s Alterna-whatever and the derivative garage Velvets worship of the 00s.
Just three years ago, Ireland’s Girl Band started to make a name for itself with the release of France 98. In retrospect, the EP feels almost quaint, what with all its riffs and hooks and guitars that sound like guitars and not a mechanical locust swarm grazing on a scrapyard full of rusted car chassis. Holding Hands with Jaime, the band’s long-gestating full-length debut, is a flayed rabbit served on a bed of live wires, all exposed nerves and twitching viscera.
After signing with Rough Trade, Dublin foursome Girl Band could have coasted complacently on their comparatively inoffensive 2012 debut, France 98, but instead, to their credit, they took the opportunity to create their most audacious and aggressive music yet, and have emerged with a riskier, more abrasive, and phenomenal rock record. All it took was the willingness to embrace the chaos within their sound and take things even further. The touchstones in Holding Hands With Jamie are unmistakable to anyone with a passing knowledge of the history of experimental rock music.
This past June, Girl Band played a handful of shows in Brooklyn. Among those, when they opened the first of Viet Cong’s two-night stand at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, singer Dara Kiely came out in a loose fitting tie-dye T-shirt, projecting a youthful psychedelic dabbler. The following afternoon, playing under the summer sun in the middle of Bedford Ave.
Girl Band’s debut EP, 2012’s France 98, was good but unremarkable, the sound of four young Irish guys experimenting with dissonance but rarely straying from ten-a-penny post-punk gloom. By contrast, last year’s "Lawman" was the sign of a band that had found their own sharp footing. Writhing, sexy, and strange, the Dubliners soldered frenzied hi-hats to an industrial mess that recalled early Liars, and Dara Kiely had found his yowling voice located somewhere between his apparently unhinged jaw and spirit.
Girl Band by name, girl band by nature? Not this one. The Irish quartet are all male purveyors of guttural noise punk whose debut LP Holding Hands With Jamie is as searing as it comes. To be played at one volume only—LOUD—this is a record composed of full throttle, Shellac-esque blowouts like "Pears for Lunch" and "Paul" that rattle and clatter with feral abandon.
A lot of bands blend drastically disparate influences, but few sound like the blender, too. Dublin four-piece Girl Band is one such act, slicing up parts of everything from no wave to techno, using guitar and drums like power tools as much as instruments. But that implies that they’re consciously taking influence from bands like Big Black, Throbbing Gristle, James Chance and the Contortions, Talking Heads, and The Chemical Brothers, while in interviews, they’ve denied influences (either things they don’t know or don’t like) as often or more than noting them.
"I look crap with my shirt off!" Girl Band's Dara Kiely yammers on his band's full-length debut. He sure sounds convincing. But he doesn't seem too shy about it, either — less like someone cowering embarrassedly in his room than a guy who's turned his fish-belly skin and concave abs into a creepy point of pride. That kind of confrontational, matter-of-fact ugliness is what this Irish post-punk crew does so well, torturing their instruments with dead-eyed precision and diabolical resolve.
Young Irish quartet Girl Band are, to put it bluntly, noisy little buggers. With their raucous noise-rock registering a decibel level that’s probably going to shatter all remaining life from your grandparents’ ears (no hearing aids required here, Gramps), you need to approach this lot with extreme caution. But they’re somewhat of a misleading lot too.
For every strangled embrace, tug of a t-shirt and pulling-out-hair motion, the dark and introverted world of Girl Band has always looked destined for bigger things. Live shows have cemented the Dublin group as a unique prospect. They wrestle with noise and always come out the victor. Alan Duggan projects stabbing guitar parts whenever he fancies, while frontman Dara Kiely undergoes a mid-mid-life crisis night after night.
Following several well-received singles and EPs on the obscure Any Other City label, abrasive Dublin quartet Girl Band moved to Rough Trade for the release of their full-length debut Holding Hands with Jamie, but their music has by no means become more accessible. If anything, they sound harsher than ever. Alan Duggan's steely guitars pierce and singe, heading straight for where it hurts most and attacking, and causing an instant blackout by covering everything in sheets of noise.
The traditional guitar-bass-drums-vocals setup of a rock band allows for some assumptions to be made about the resulting sound — power chords, 1-2-3-4 count-offs, that sort of thing. But the Irish foursome Girl Band explodes those expectations on its thrilling debut. Vocalist Dara Kiely has a delivery that’s simultaneously laconic and supercharged; on the stringy, urgent “Pears for Lunch” he stretches vowel sounds like Silly Putty, while his monologue on “Texting an Alien” is buried enough in the mix to serve as an additional rhythmic element.
Disclosure and Chvrches might be battling it out for best dance-flavoured comeback of 2015, but theirs aren’t the only records worth your time this week. New 4AD signing US Girls’ album unveils Canadian singer Meghan Remy as a star in the making, while ex-Lostprophets members release their ….
It's hard to completely get a handle on Girl Band, and that, in itself, is refreshing. Originality is an increasingly lesser-noted concept in modern guitar music, and it's a rare band that stakes out any new ground for themselves. Girl Band are obviously not without precedents - there are echoes of everything from Big Black's surgical ferocity to the thrillingly arid clatter of the best, most dancefloor-friendly post-punk on Holding Hands With Jamie.