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Reviews

Girl Band
Holding Hands With Jamie Phil Harrison , September 23rd, 2015 11:46

It's hard to completely get a handle on Girl Band, and that, in itself, is refreshing. Originality is an increasingly lesser-noted concept in modern guitar music, and it's a rare band that stakes out any new ground for themselves. Girl Band are obviously not without precedents - there are echoes of everything from Big Black's surgical ferocity to the thrillingly arid clatter of the best, most dancefloor-friendly post-punk on Holding Hands With Jamie. But in terms of comparison, nothing quite fits.

It helps that the Dublin quartet have taken a slightly circuitous route towards releasing this debut album. There's been France 98, an excellent, ludicrously limited EP. A handful of singles (the pugnacious Lawman, a fabulously boggle-eyed take on Blawan's 'Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage?'). A burgeoning live reputation. But happily little sense of a campaign grinding through the gears; of a band joylessly calculating career progression. They've waited until they're good and ready to drop this album and it shows.

While the Blawan cover might be the best indication of where they're currently at, Girl Band have moved on. What they've retained from that early high watermark is their distinctly non-rock use of rock tools and sonics. These aren't run-of-the-mill rock or punk songs - there's nothing rootsy or 'real' here thank god, despite the album containing all the familiar guitar-bass-drums signifiers. These are cranky, abstracted journeys through texture, noise and rhythm with howling, gibbering singer Dara Kiely as our unreliable spirit guide. At their best, Girl Band manage to locate a sweet spot between chaos and precision, poise and frenzy, hysteria and logic. Anyone who's seen Girl Band live will know that, in full flow, this band make people lose their shit. Because nothing beats repetition. Feverish, endless momentum.

The techno influence runs deep. Even Holding Hands With Jamie's most conventional moments, like the superb 'Pears For Lunch', don't really do choruses and verses. Instead, these songs have drops and surges; moments of dynamic, atom-fusing excitement which work like a jolt of electricity to the temples. They're simultaneously feral and deadly precise. Adam Faulkner's drumming is crucial here; resisting anything remotely fussy or fiddly in favour of inexorable builds and tension releases of brutal velocity. This means that structurally, Girl Band songs travel down paths that are equal parts beautifully linear and brilliantly random. Future indie disco banger 'Paul' maintains a febrile, anxious momentum for nearly seven minutes; 'In Plastic' lurches and flails like a sea shanty in a steelworks. 'Fucking Butter' (and who hasn't cursed that most invidious of toast accompaniments from time to time?) is all jolts and jars; finely orchestrated chaos.

It's also hard to put a finger on what, if anything, Girl Band are really about. Kiely's lyrics can feel like an assortment of absurdist in-jokes but even so, he owns his space like few indie frontmen at the moment and endows it with its own uncanny internal logic. Cryptic as they are, his lyrics still feel pregnant with meaning. Still, often he's simply a marionette, jerking and howling, completely at the mercy of the great gusts of noise and density and rhythm his band mates kick up.

This feels like a particularly ego-free band. There are moments of casual virtuosity everywhere but it's all in the service of the greater good. Above all, there's a real delight in the simple making of noise. That, in itself, wouldn't normally be enough to hold the attention for long. But this is poised, nuanced and manicured noise; noise, delivered with flair, imagination and real intent. Originality may be hard to conjure but personality is a different matter altogether. Girl Band have it in spades, and on Holding Hands With Jamie, it feels great.

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