Featuring a mix of the old and new, Brighton formed three-piece Our Girl, unleash their debut album, Stranger Today, via Brighton-based Cannibal Hymns. Formed by The Big Moon’s guitarist Soph Nathan, Our Girl’s Stranger Today is the culmination of four year’s labour, the band forced to work around the unexpected success and subsequent demands of The Big Moon’s debut album, Love in the 4th Dimension, which ended up being nominated for a Mercury.
Unsurprisingly, it does feature a number of songs that have been kicking around for a while, whether released on record (‘Our Girl’, ‘Level’, ‘Being Around’ etc) and/or as part of their live set. However, for the vast majority that will matter little, as Our Girl become more than just another little known indie pretender. Instead, they are a band who have developed both a tight friendship and tight dynamic musical chemistry along the way, fermenting a sound that oscillates between loud scuzzy guitars, quieter moments of contemplation, and all points in-between, the sounds often mimicking the stuff swirling around in Nathan’s world; be it romance, agitation, frustration, or confusion.
With Bill Ryder-Jones on board as producer, Our Girl have been persuaded to ditch the purist mode of recording, in line with their live set up. Instead, effects, and guitars are piled up here and there (Ryder-Jones being a handy guitar player in his own right) in creating a denser, more atmospheric sound than we are used to. While this may well be lost on the live stage, it works a treat here on record.
The opening pair of tracks are dominated by big guitars, with backwards tracking opening up ‘Our Girl’, a marker for their typically languid groove; My Bloody Valentine, American grunge, and shoegaze being vague touchstones throughout their often long drawn out pieces.
Meanwhile, ‘Being Around’, the shortest track here, but still clocking in at just under three minutes, demonstrates the raw aggression of Nathan’s guitars layered up, the song a multi-part expedition that cuts to the chase in almost The Big Moon fashion. These are followed by the post-punk Pil-esque beat of ‘In My Head’, again underpinned by multiple guitar parts, that build and speed up to an abrupt finish, as Nathan documents her self-induced confusion: “I forget that other people haven’t been in my head”.
Amongst the flurry of guitars and big chords, there’s a song-craft intricacy throughout Stranger Today, as well as an ear for melody. On the unashamedly pining love song, and perhaps the album’s poppiest moment, ‘I Really Like It’, the underlying structure and melody is deceptively sophisticated, the song enjoying an elongated burst of faintly motorik rhythms and swelling guitars before Nathan sharply vents her emotions.
Mimicking the yo-yo frustrations of longing and desire, she sings: “I was sitting in the living room, smoking for nothing, hoping for you“, eventually morphing into a deep frustration at being left waiting: “Now it’s really fucking late“. Similarly ‘Jospehine’ begins woozily, if somewhat forebodingly, the sound ratcheted up to the point where Nathan is practically screaming into the mic, before a sea of, if still a little turbulent, calm descends, the sounds drifting off in a haze of distortion and effects. ‘Two Life’ then descends into a maelstrom of big riffing and big chords.
Beginning with ‘Level’ (named after the Brighton park, which Nathan lived nearby), Stranger Today becomes more contemplative, and quieter for the most part, although the quite-loud aesthetic continues. ‘Sub Rosa’ is made up of just simply strummed guitar, along with haunting atmospherics, while the drifting ‘I Wish it Was Sunday’ is all in the title, a hankering for time to stand still for once: “Let’s just take a little time, let our happiness unwind”. It’s very sound advice.
Stranger Today unfurls its aural delights gently, but forcibly, the songwriting often nuanced and intricate, which allied to a consistently turbulent-meets-melancholy vibe, and a denser production than we are used to, makes for one of the best guitar-based albums of the year so far.