Five years ago, it would not have been unfair to argue that Girl Band were one of – if not the – most exciting prospects in the world. A string of limited 7” singles and increasing reputation as an explosive live act saw the Irish music scene rejoice in the news that they had signed to Rough Trade, a move which in turn saw the release of those same singles repackaged as ‘The Early Years’ EP and the release of the crashing fury that was their self-produced debut ‘Holding Hands with Jamie’.
Then, there was nothing. The band’s 2016 European tour would be cancelled due to health issues, as would a rescheduled round trip in 2017. Frontman Dara Kiely had previously been candid about the mental health issues that inspired the writing of ‘Holding Hands With Jamie’. The cancellations came at first as a shock, then a disappointment, then as a reminder that behind all the hype, sound and vision are real people with real issues under real pressure.
In the meantime, bassist Daniel Fox has become a much sought after audio engineer, guitarist Alan Duggan has busied himself with his new project The Claque and Kiely returned to college for a qualification in peer-led mental health support as part of his recuperation – so their exuberant return in the form of the industrial-tinged Shoulderblades was more than a welcome surprise. Having quietly regrouped at Ballintubbert House last winter, Girl Band sound revitalised on ‘The Talkies’.
Predictably unpredictable, ‘The Talkies’ is pure, unadulterated, visceral art and disconcerting, right from the outset. ASMR recording from hell Prolix opens proceedings, Dara Kiely’s growingly anxious breathing heaving over processed beats to create an immediate sense of panic, only to be swiftly disrupted by the deceptive, writhing, Going Norway. Here the band sound the closest they have come to straightforward since their ‘France ‘98’ EP, aggressive and up-tempo, until the song teeters on the brink of implosion.
The album is as much an experiment in texture, mood, rhythm and timbre as it is a venting of the spleen. The hilariously named Aibohphobia is cavernous to the point that it sounds like it was recorded in a ravine. Salmon of Knowledge opens with a quickstep like beat and prominently features buzzsaw-like guitars that weave around Kiely’s vocal. Akineton is the mid-way point instrumental, marked with odd ambient noises that permeate the album, floor tom rolls and rim shots and oscillating digital sounds. Amygdala is a barbed, danceable post-punk number that repeats one chord ad nauseam underpinning Kiely’s shrieks and howls and on Caveat we see the influence of big beat on Girl Band stronger than ever before, backing the argument that they owe more to The Chemical Brothers than to Mclusky or Shellac.
Elsewhere, Girl Band display a real knack for subverting conventional song structure. Couch Combover opens with sharp stabbing chords reminiscent of Sick, Sick, Sick by Queens of the Stone Age and a lilting, rockabilly like vocal delivery from Kiely and word salad lyrics about flyswatters only to give way to atonal guitar cacophony and gargled “la la la”s. Meanwhile, Laggard plays with the soft/loud dynamic in never before heard form; it’s final soft part being just as unsettling as the up-ending loud that follows.
There is a lot to digest on ‘The Talkies’. It rewards multiple listens, but just how many is entirely up to the listener. Unquestionably esoteric, it is an album that envelops you before you even really begin to scratch its surface. A bold and outlandish album from an incomparable band.