With The Early Years EP, their first release on Rough Trade earlier this year, Girl Band presented themselves as an extremely promising group, spewing out a sound equally indebted to contemporary strains of electronic and dance music as it was to punk and noise rock. But instead of just inserting token dance rhythms into their songs, Girl Band’s music draws upon the structures of the genre. Rather than simply moving from verse to chorus, their songs evolve, building up and breaking down in waves of increasing tension and aggression that is reminiscent of how a DJ might move a crowd to euphoria. Girl Band, however, are definitely working you over into a much more negative headspace. Despite the unearthly sounds being emitted the album was in fact recorded live, with the four-piece playing together in a room, creating a suitable claustrophobia.
Every member feels essential to the creation of the records unique sound, approaching their respective instruments in every which way possible, apart from playing them how they’re actually meant to. Guitarist Alan Duggan probably implements more pedals in each song than he plays separate notes, choosing instead to smother everything before him in layers of feedback and distortion. He manages to build parts that are catchy whilst barely containing a trace of melody. The opening riff of ‘Baloo’ is almost something of a jaunt that sounds like it was built out of radio static. Adam Faulkner’s drumming is either a syncopated flurry or ticking over methodically, incorporating all kinds of implements, from hubcaps to Gaviscon bottles, to create weird sounds. In ‘Pears For Lunch’ he operates like a metronome or drum machine malfunctioning and skipping at regular intervals. Daniel Fox’s bass moans and growls like some wounded beast as it crawls on its knees along the fret board. But it’s singer Dara Kiely who remains the compellingly strange center of the album, having such violent mood swings at times he seems genuinely unhinged. At the end of ‘The Last Riddler’ he screams “I don’t want to go!” over and over with such convincing hysteria you feel like he’s being dragged away by some unseen assailants in the middle of the recording.
Melodically, Kiely is out in the wilderness on his own, his songs can be catchy but slightly disturbing in their naivety, like some nursery rhyme that suddenly becomes creepy once you start listening to its macabre lyrics. Kiely claims many of his lyrics are drawn from his own experiences and erratic behavior when he suffered a breakdown after a particularly messy break-up. They simultaneously sound too absurd to be real but also too specific not to be drawn from real life experience. Like the overheard ramblings of a particularly disturbed person talking to himself on the street, what they are uttering might be completely meaningless to you, but in reality it’s the nightmarish and impressionistic fragments of some past trauma. Often the words get buried beneath all the carnage and Kiely’s weird emphasis and pronunciation, but there’s a trick repeated throughout the record, where everything is suddenly stripped away apart from Kiely’s voice and perhaps minimal drums. He’s left exposed. As if the spotlight has suddenly swung unexpectedly onto him, left vulnerable because he’s now so easily intelligible. Then suddenly everything comes crashing back down around him again so that he’s able to disappear back into the safety of the chaos.
There’s also a lot of humour, largely in the dissonance between the outer edges of sanity the record is treading into and the totally banal and mundane references that litter it. Whether its confessing to “Spending my time watching Top Gear with my trousers down / Covered in Sudocrem and talking to myself” in ‘Pears For Lunch’ or the ‘A Day In The Life’-esque trip to the shops that is ‘Fucking Butter’ ending with Kiely simply screaming “Nutella!” over and over. In a breakdown in the middle of the albums centerpiece ‘Paul’, Kiely’s voice becomes almost comically high-pitched, like one of those Monty Python impressions of an old lady. Later on in the song he abruptly moves between the low and high in his vocal range like there are multiple personalities battling for control. Eventually the song goes into a free fall of descending guitars and everything erupts, as if Kiely is unable to contain his multitudes any longer.
Holding Hands With Jamie leaves you asking if there is really anyone else who sounds quite like this at the moment. Surely the highest compliment that can be afforded to a bands debut.