Release Date: Mar 12, 2013
Record label: Slumberland
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
The year may be just two months old yet already it's seen excellent releases from Foals, Frightened Rabbit, My Bloody Valentine, Darkstar, Veronica Falls and Villagers in what has been a great start to the year for music. Another addition to that list comes in the shape of Girls Names, a band who've been hovering around the Belfast underground scene for a good few years now. Indeed, it's unlikely anyone at last year's Primavera Sound festival won't have come across them at some point, as they played three times over the course of the weekend.
Girls Names are in an entirely new headspace on their sophomore album. Frontman Cathal Cully says, "The New Life is what happens when you reset everything back to zero and start again, but try to be perfect." Gone are the jangly pop hooks and surf-rock influences that made up the band's critically acclaimed debut, Dead To Me. With their latest work, the Belfast-based four-piece (formerly a trio) delve into deeper, darker, shadowy psychedelia (i.e., Joy Division and the Horrors).
Girls Names first album, Dead to Me, is a reverb-soaked, barely under control noise-fest that sounded much like what you'd expect a Slumberland band to sound like (if you'd only heard Black Tambourine and the Crystal Stilts anyway. ) Sometime afterwards, the Irish group decided to change things up and lose the noisy half of the equation, and for their second album, 2013's The New Life, they go for a much more sonically restrained and atmospheric sound. Where before there would be squalling guitars and pounding drums, now there are moody synth washes and echoing guitar lines -- it's a much more dramatic sound that owes more to trench-coated bands of the early '80s like Echo and the Bunnymen or Joy Division than to any noise pop groups.
Northern Ireland: home to Snow Patrol, Rihanna’s boob-based farm scandal, and what was, for 30 years until 1998, Britain’s only fully functioning civil war. What the country really isn’t famed for, though, is art-rock bands. Y’see, art-rock just doesn’t fly in this crunch-punk-loving province.
Girls NamesThe New Life[Slumberland; 2013]By Autumn Andel; March 18, 2013Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetIf you’ve been keeping up with the reviews for The New Life by Girls Names, much has been said about the metamorphosis of the Belfast indie rockers--how a young band ignored much of the accolades garnered from institutions like Pitchfork and NME on their debut LP, and produced a follow-up that is barely recognisable as its cousin. But then the music world seems to gorge on the next possible trend and promulgate embellished articles on why a newish act, who can play a few catchy chords, are the next best thing. In spite of the previous sentence, I was also smitten with their instantaneously appealing, no-frills post-punk vignettes.
Clocking in at almost 50 minutes, The New Life is a long-form evolution for Girls Names. The band's 2011 debut Dead to Me was filled with staccato bursts of '80s indie pop clangs, thrashed out with the sort of breathless urgency that suggested the Belfast trio-since upgraded to a quartet-had its eyes on something much more substantial. Turns out it did: the follow-up.
Belfast, Northern Ireland is supposed to be a rejuvenated city, as the not-so-distant past of sectarian strife gives way to a brighter future of economic growth, affluence, tourism and hope. Album title aside, one would not necessarily come away with this impression after listening to Girls Names’ sophomore effort, The New Life. The Belfast-based four-piece thrives on looking to its post-punk forefathers for inspiration—specifically The Cure circa Seventeen Seconds, The Smiths’ first album and Movement-era New Order.
Girls Names' 2011 debut LP was called Dead to Me, with songs that possessed such happy-go-lucky titles as "Bury Me", "I Could Die", and "No More Words". The album's closing song referenced a movie about a psychic dealing with the death of her dead son, so in case you haven't caught on yet, the Belfast outfit possesses a bit of a morbid streak. Frontman Cathal Cully's wavering, accent-flecked baritone drew immediate comparisons to Brad Hargett of fellow death-obsessed Slumberland labelmates Crystal Stilts-- as did Dead to Me's rollicking garage-pop sound, which resembled what you might hear if you played the Stilts' Alight of Night at 45 RPM.
Belfast quartet Girls Names have obviously been reading their press. Their 2011 debut album (as a three piece), Dead to Me, was called “effortlessly catchy, sun-kissed pop” and “sprightly, dewy-eyed, well-played surf-rock” in a review that ran on Pitchfork, despite the presence of songs titled “I Could Die” and “Bury Me”, which would suggest a more Gothic approach. Anyway, this review went on to say that, “Their sound is vaguely reminiscent of labelmates Crystal Stilts, minus the psychedelic overtones and the Factory Records gloom that make that band so interesting.
The New Life proves to be quite the tricky title for the sophomore album from Girls Names. The Belfast quartet have so reinvented their sound that a rebirth shouldn’t be too far from mind. On the other hand, these dark clouds aren’t exactly peppy. Gone is the clangy effervescence of Dead To Me, and in its stead is a moody wall of stormclouds that just won’t break.
Belfast band reinvents its sound and comes up smelling of roses. Mike Haydock 2013 The New Life is an apt title for the second album by Girls Names. This Belfast band – formerly a trio, now expanded to a four-piece – won critical plaudits for their 2011 debut, Dead to Me, which offered a brooding take on Best Coast-style surfer-rock. It was bruised, but also full of pop hooks.
What on earth happened to this lot? Just a few short years ago, Girls Names were Belfast’s finest purveyors of cheerily shonky noisepop; all fizzy guitar lines, playfully dexterous rhythms and easy melodies. The sort of thing that helps the time pass more enjoyably when waiting for a bus on a warm summer’s day, or else crops up unexpectedly during an iPod shuffle session and reminds you that you really must give the whole thing another go, or even makes you wonder where you left those Wavves 7”s anyway. But there’s no room for fun here – zip your lip, you won’t be needing those toothy grins no more.