Review | Girl Band defy convention on visceral debut album ‘Holding Hands With Jamie’

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Holding Hands With Jamie

[Rough Trade]

To see Girl Band perform is a truly visceral experience. The not-so-quiet Dublin quartet don’t just play their instruments; they bludgeon, butcher and beat them into submission. They’re the kind of band that only needs to play for about a quarter of a second for anyone listening to know exactly how they feel about them. If they performed in a room full of an audience who didn’t know them , about half of those watching would probably walk out midway through the first song while the other half would find themselves nothing short of transfixed by the pulsating energy on display. Noise punk, neo-grunge or Bleach-period Nirvana, call them whatever pseudo genre you want, all that matters is that these guys can make an awful racket in the best sense of the term.     

It was these incendiary live shows that gave them much of the notoriety they now enjoy but it was the release of explosive single ‘Lawman’ in early 2014 that afforded them some wider recognition abroad. Since the online furore around the song, tour dates in North America and mainland Europe have followed and the hype train surrounding the long-awaited release of debut full length  Holding Hands With Jamie has gained Stars Wars: The Force Awakens levels of momentum (in certain  circles , at least). For us Irish, Girl Band are a true rarity: a legitimately exciting emerging act with a beguiling sound that has many music nerds with an aversion for pretension (this reviewer included) hoping to be able to use the “I knew them way back when” card in the near future. Some even hope that the album’s release could spark a whole scene emerging from the band’s arrestingly abrasive guitar sound. 

This, of course, is a lot and in fact far too much to put solely on the shoulders of four Dublin lads just trying to put a record out.  In truth, regardless of what’s on Holding Hands With Jamie, it probably won’t achieve some of the ludicrous expectations thrust upon it. The members of Girl Band are most likely only concerned with making some ferociously fearsome tunes, and they’ve certainly achieved this. If nothing else, with this record they have solidified themselves as the real deal, a title that’s eluded countless previously promising acts upon the release of their first full length. Over the course of these 9 tracks, HHWJ is continuously caustic, often operatic, and sometimes impenetrable but never, ever boring.         

Opener ‘Umbongo’ is a kind of schizoid practice run that acts as a veritable showcase of all that we’ve come to expect based on past efforts: The screeching wall of noise that always sounds close to collapsing, the up-tempo, warlike drumming and the sudden sonic shifts in direction – the gang’s all here. And even if it’s a bit loose, it’s still a fitting introduction into the darkly ominous soundscape we are about to be lead into. One thing that continues to separate Girl Band from many of their ones-to-watch, indie rock peers can be found in their ability to create great amounts of tension and then move the song into unexpected pathways.

‘Pears For Lunch’ is yet another intense ear splitter. At one stage the track’s piercing guitars build and build to nigh-breaking point but instead of giving us the payoff we might expect, the guitars disappear as frontman Dara Kiely deadpans, nakedly, that “I look crap with top off” over nothing but some dreary drums. It doesn’t last though, as everything erupts into a corrosive cacophony again and Kiely’s voice gets inaudibly confrontational. At sub four minutes, ‘Pears For Lunch’ shows how Girl Band can also shine in (relatively) tighter spaces but they’re still at their best when their songs have plenty of room to breathe. The sinister seven-minute single ‘Paul’ feels like ‘Lawman’s closest relative. Here, it is Daniel Fox’s brutally good bass work at the fore, with his instrument working symbiotically with Adam Faulkner’s driving drum beat to give the song a fearsome sense of forward motion. Kiely’s delivery is typically apathetic and enjoyably rambling: “She’s a gent / give her a call / my daughter Paul” he rasps. ‘Paul’ along with other longer tracks ‘Fucking Butter’ and ‘The Witch Doctor’, find the four piece bringing their explosive sound to its natural conclusion and testing it to its limits.

Girl Band don’t condescend to their listeners in these tracks. Though their music may seem aggressive and expeditious, it’s also quite patient. They can take their time building pressure, and rewarding their listeners aptly by releasing it when needs be. It’s a sensibility they share with, of all things, underground dance scenes. Kiely has  spoken before about the influence of minimal techno on his work and it’s a genre he admires so much they even covered one its songs, and it’s a heart-pounder. It’s all more than just a little bit irksome, then, that this already short album has some punishingly short songs. Both ‘The Last Riddler’ and ‘Texting an Alien’ feel more like interludes than they do ‘proper songs’, which would be fine but on an LP of about 35 mins, there shouldn’t be this kind of filler.    

Holding Hands With Jamie is probably not the indie rock tent pole that some might have been hoping it would be. It’s unlikely it will make the same splash of dizzying distortion that another hotly-tipped Irish act did in 1988 with an album called Isn’t Anything.  Now, obviously it doesn’t compare to My Bloody Valentine’s dazzling debut but that’s not really fair as the majority of albums don’t. None of this really matters anyway because HHWJ is the essential mission statement that marks the true beginning of Girl Band’s musical journey. If the kind of noise made by these guys wasn’t already anything to go by, then the sheer quality on display here should tell you that Girl Band aren’t going to shy away any time soon.

EIGHT / TEN

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