Girl Band – The Talkies

In 1967, the Velvet Underground built the house.

In 1979, Joy Division furnished the house.

Throughout the 1980s, Glenn Branca and Sonic Youth wandered into the house and became squatters.

In the 90s, the house was purchased by redevelopers and gentrified to the point of paralysis.

In the 00s, due to lack of care and attention, the house settled, and people started to ignore it when they walked down the street.

This year, Girl Band have broken into the house, set fire to it and everything in it, and are currently pissing on the steamy ashes, while chanting and whooping and hollering and playing a big drum.

*

Girl Band are my favourite band in the world right now, and they are, perhaps coincidentally, the best band in the world right now. I cannot be objective about this, but these are, as I see them, facts. Their music is an endless tumbledown fracas, and exists perennially at the intersection of chaos and order; discordant guitar stabs and tribal drum patterns give way to shrieked vocals and sheet-metal waves of unbridled noise, the kaleidoscopic hell of it all turning and twisting until other music sounds safe, sane, and boring.

Their first EP, France 98, is only underwhelming in the context of what they would later go on to do. Their second EP, The Early Years, consists of two sublime noise-rock anthems (Lawman and Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage?) sandwiched between some forgettable filler and a Beat Happening cover (I Love You). They were a cut above the rest from the start, but there is also very little in those two early recordings to indicate the greatness they would ascend to.

Their first album proper, Holding Hands With Jamie (I thought it was a reference to Jamie Bulger, but it is in fact about a friend of the band called Jamie) is, or was, my second favourite record of all time. It opens with the sound of the band falling apart, in the majestic Umbongo, and it ends with a drum circle from the depths of hell, in The Witch Dr. In between, we get no-wave guitars in the delicious Paul, a feverish anthem of fear and loathing in Pears For Lunch, an 8 minute veer into the deep-end that ends with a chant of ‘petit pois’ in Fucking Butter, and a song called Baloo, which is an unexpectedly catchy singalong track about a cat doing dumps in the neighbours garden.

The disparate moods of the album, from frenetic, fraught, and angsty, to literate, good-willed, and very funny, are all papered over and rejoined by a drummer (Adam Faulkner), who sounds like he has a gun to his head which will blow his brains over the snare if he goes below 190bpm, two guitarists (Alan Duggan, guitar, Daniel Fox, bassist) who eschew chords in favour of panicky textures, like a sort of rave-shoegaze, and a singer (Dara Kiely) who chants and squeals and shouts and does everything except properly sing.

We live in a world where even the most abrasive elements of music can be commodified and sold for profit, and even in this context Girl Band seem distinct. Despite being signed to Rough Trade, they still feel more like a soft-spot of the label-head than they do a band on which it seems viable to stake the promise of future profits and record sales. Yet, they are entirely uncompromised and completely unique, and this has made them quite popular, in a best-kept-secret kind of way.

Their music might not be for everyone, but it’s also for more people than you’d think.

*

The Talkies is, and I cannot say it any other way, the record I have waited my entire life for. From the three singles, Going Norway (punchy, arrhythmic, idiosyncratic), Shoulderblades (like having a brick thrown at you), and Salmon of Knowledge (like a T-Rex b-side shredded into a bowl of rotten milk and rusty nails), it was clear that the album was going to push even further at the envelopes that had been thoroughly licked on the previous record.

It is marked, predominantly, by the fact that it is a proper record, in a way that perhaps even Jamie wasn’t. It has an intro (Prolix, the sound of Dara’s panic attack overlaid with an Aphexy hum), and an outro (Ereignis, an uncertain closer which seems to invite a return to the start). Elements reoccur, such as the swirl at the start of Shoulderblades which appears again in Akineton, and the album is clearly structured down the middle, with the first six songs building to the trail of steam that is Salmon, and side two acting as a miniature anti-pop suite before the hulking convalescing bombast of Laggard (like trying to escape an experimental science facility while it’s exploding), and Prefab Castle (the most purely cathartic, and possibly the best, song they have recorded).

The band takes risks that it feels like they never would have before; Aibophobia, a song told entirely in palindromes, devolves into actual harsh noise in the closing movement, and Amygdala is the most fraught Dara has ever dared to sound. Most of the album is also recorded in the key of A, which, far from being boring, means the album hangs together beautifully and feels conceptually watertight (it also means that, often, the guitars seem to act as vocals, and vice versa). In addition, the lyrics are also entirely absent of any personal pronouns, to avoid anything personal creeping in; as such, the record is a much more convincing snapshot of a state of mind than anything else they could have done.

Where this could have been limiting, it actually creates an even playing-field where every word is as valid as the other, and the record works as a striking and poetic Ginsburg-esque catalogue of whims and thoughts and sensations. Whether it’s the breathtakingly beautiful denouement of Prefab Castle, which ends with Dara singing ‘when it’s depressed/still in love/when it’s happy/still in love’, or the wry homoeroticism of Couch Combover, in which ‘get a semi in Hot Topic sauna/overlooking balls/in a male dressing rumour’ is sung with zero irony, the lyrics are marked with an unusual richness, dripping with allusions and cast-off musings.

It is a rare record that simultaneously deconstructs, and also wallows in, those elements that made the band noteworthy in the first place, but where the modulation and richness of Jamie made The Early Years seem a little crude and basic after the fact, the same is found here. When listened to for the first time, The Talkies feels less like a collection of songs than it does a series of meditations on the limits of the voice, drums, and guitar tones that made the band famous to start with. After repeated listens, the song structures become more clear, and it becomes obvious that this is by far the most controlled collection of music they’ve recorded; it’s just that they seem to have control over chaos only.

It is also worth mentioning how The Talkies is also marked by a keen sense of fun, and joy. This is a weird prospect for something that begins with a panic attack, and ends as though someone is climbing a mountain with a rucksack full of bricks strapped to them, but all of the vocal tics, energetic guitar lines, and march-like drumming add up to a record that sounds a little like a flag being triumphantly placed in the ground. This sense of glee offsets the abrasion, the distortion, the noise, and imbues the record with a sense of urgency.

It is lived-in. It is raucous. It is, top-to-bottom, an embarrassment of riches. It has lingered with me in the same way a film lingers, with scenes that are febrile and alive in your head, marked by the impression they have made on you. It is an epic, swelling, perfect record. And that is capital-P perfect, just so we’re clear.

There will be no other recording better this year, and quite possibly next year too.

*

I cannot pinpoint why Girl Band mean so much to me, perhaps because, in the conventional sense, they don’t really mean that much to me. They have not got me through any hard times, nor have they been with me for a particularly long time; I first heard them in 2017, and I thought they were good, but it was only this year that I really became a proper fan (coincidentally, just before Shoulderblades was released and the album was announced).

It doesn’t seem like enough just to say that they make music I really, really like, but in this case that’s all I’ve got. They crystallise every single one of my tendencies, preferences, and fetishes into one intoxicating musical stew, and I love them for it.

I met the band, two days ago, at a signing in Resident Records, a record store in the Laines about five minutes away from where I work. I chatted, briefly, with Alan and Daniel, while they signed the record, and told them, breathlessly and gracelessly, that their album was one of the best I had ever heard. They seemed genuinely grateful for my kind words. I then turned the corner of the counter to Dara and Adam, who I told that the album was one I’ve been waiting for my entire life.

Dara, as someone who suffers with anxiety, perhaps picked up on my own anxiousness; or maybe he is just a nice person. But when he didn’t just sign my name but wrote ‘hope you’re well’, it felt like a genuine statement, and I found myself unexpectedly moved. And when Adam wrote ‘see you on the 5th’ after I told him I was seeing them live, it felt joyous.

Upon exiting the shop, a little giddy, I found myself starting to cry with happiness. It wasn’t just that I’d met the band, it was the fact that they had, however briefly, however minutely, taken a minute to listen to me tell them how good their music is, and how much I enjoy it. I do not know them as people, and I am not sure I wish to; but for a brief second, the people who had written the music that has consumed my summer with a fervent passion took notice of me, and thanked me for what I had to say.

And that is more than I could have ever wished for.

2 thoughts on “Girl Band – The Talkies”

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