Holding Hands With Jamie Out Sep 25th Via Rough Trade.
Nothing about Girl Band makes a lot of sense. For the benefit of the literal-minded reader, let’s first establish that they’re not a girl band. They’re about as different to a girl band as you can get. They share their name with a girl band that was a finalist in The X Factor once, and the possibility of anyone unsuspectingly browsing Spotify for that lot and being confronted with this insanity is an idea too hilarious to contemplate.
Because if you only ever allowed ITV to dictate your music to you, Dublin four-piece Girl Band are everything that would leave you scratching your head and crying “that’s not music!” Their lyrics are nonsensical, their vocals are out of key and their song structures are all over the shop. Most nonsensical of all is that the madness actually works, and falls nicely (if not entirely comfortably) into place in their debut full-length album, Holding Hands With Jamie.
What’s more, a bit of reading up on vocalist Dara Kiely reveals that the madness isn’t entirely an act. Kiely reportedly spent a long time living in a tent in his garden recently, and even talks of believing he had superhuman powers before going through a breakdown. None of this lends itself well to an easy life, but it can be the basis of great art, and Kiely has been aware enough of his irrational behaviour to analyse it, angry enough about it to channel it into something creative, and witty enough to develop it into refreshingly bizarre and different music.
The songs here express a frustration at a claustrophobic and repetitive existence, and an anger that only grows with a feeling of self-worthlessness. Either that, or Girl Band are just trying to weird us out. Whichever, it’s an effective introduction into Kiely’s frightening world.
Opener ‘Umbongo’ (one of three songs on the album with a food or drink theme in the title) is your warning, its thunderous drumming and screaming reminiscent of the nightmarish ‘Black Mass: An Electric Storm in Hell’ by the early experimental band White Noise. Those who can stomach the chaotic crescendo are rewarded with second track ‘Pears for Lunch’, which despite its peculiar lyrics, lack of structure and 15/8 (I think!) time signature, stands out as being the lead single from this album.
Kiely spews out lyrics with fury and lethargy at the same time. You don’t catch them all due to his sometimes slurred, sometimes squawked delivery, but phrases like “spend my time watching Top Gear with my trousers down, covered in Sudocrem and talking to myself” leave you thinking “did he just say that?” ‘Baloo’ continues in a similarly erratic and confusing way, before ‘In Plastic’ introduces a welcome change of pace and the closest Kiely comes to singing on the album, though the gloriously gloomy and grindy guitars help keep things far from conventional.
‘Paul’ is another highlight, with a brooding, discordant bassline heralding another less than comfortable listen, confirmed soon after with the lyric “a bleached moustache is giving us a rash”. It’s a slow burner, but a drum crash roughly halfway through this descends it into almost rave-like mayhem. This industrial dance sound is explored further on album closer ‘The Witch Dr.’, a track that wouldn’t sound out of place as you stumbled into a rave at 4am.
When music is as idiosyncratic as this, it can almost become victim of its own uniqueness and begin to grate as the album goes on, but what Girl Band do well is make every track sound different, yet maintain their distinctive sound. Comparisons might be made to the deranged narratives and unpredictability of Black Francis (especially on ‘The Last Riddler’ and ‘Fucking Butter’), the industrial rawness of Big Black and the Steve Albini catalogue, and the sheer absurdity of The Butthole Surfers, but Girl Band are their own men and have interesting ideas coming out of their backsides. After six decades of popular music, creating something this original is creditable in itself, but making it sound this good is a bonus.
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