Review | Girl Band - The Talkies
Taking their album name from a significant change to film in the late 1920s, noise-rockers Girl Band return with a more experimental sophomore record that pushes their sound to the extreme.
2019 has seen the Irish post-punk scene flourish, with The Murder Capital releasing their debut album When I Have Fears to critical acclaim, as well as Fontaines D.C.’s Dogrel being nominated for the Mercury Prize. Even smaller acts within Ireland such as Just Mustard are still in the fledgling years of their career, but are providing a big impact on the underground scene. However, back in 2015, the debut album from noise-rock outfit Girl Band, Holding Hands With Jamie, gathered somewhat of a cult following, especially in its home city of Dublin. With its cryptically surreal lyrics from frontman Dara Kiely, alongside a refreshing combination of post-punk, no-wave and noise rock, the album went against many of the trends of indie bands at the time. Holding Hands With Jamie also depicted a future of a common theme in modern-day music: talking about mental health. Kiely’s frenzied, speaking in the moment lyrics echo back to his own past and present struggles with mental health. When converted into a record, so far it has encapsulated a ferocious, menacing experience.
After taking time off due to health issues and burnout from 2017, Girl Band have finally released their follow-up album, The Talkies, pronoun-free in its lyricism that harnesses the ferocity of Holding Hands With Jamie, whilst having a usually-welcome addition of more creative songwriting and production. Recorded in November 2018 at Ballintubbert House, on the edge of their hometown of Dublin, drum tracks were recorded twice in two different locations of the state home, with the band opting to switch between the recordings when deemed fit during the production stages.
Opening with ‘Prolix’, Kiely described the track as a “semi-panic attack” in an interview with Loud and Quiet Magazine. For just under two minutes, Kiely gradually starts to breathe faster and with more intensity, setting the tone for ‘The Talkies’ as another uncomfortable ride. Any first-time listener could immediately feel confused as to what they are about to strap in and listen to. Transitioning into single ‘Going Norway’, the track with the most normal structure on the album, producer and bassist Daniel Fox develops a more rigid production approach, with Kiely’s vocals feeling more focused in the mix. Lead single ‘Shoulderblades’ also provides a fantastic introduction for the album, that existing fans will love due to the similarity of style to ‘Holding Hands With Jamie’. However, this is where ‘The Talkies’ takes an incredibly abstract turn, in particular, the ending section of ‘Couch Combover’, which slowly diverts to a more ambient, textured track. In theme with the entire album, it feels peculiar and surreal, but doesn’t fit cohesively. This isn’t the only time ‘The Talkies’ becomes unexpectedly different.
The majority of the twelve tracks either creep to six or seven minutes or clock in at under two minutes. These shorter tracks are where the ideas and creativity feel underdeveloped and underexplored at points; ‘Amygdela’ consists of Kiely yelping and muttering under his breath coupled with a single strummed guitar chord, and ‘Ereignis’, the closer of the album, fizzles out after just over a minute of what comes across as an improvised piece. When in context of the entire album, ‘The Talkies’ is an unusual album to digest after the first listen, but will more than likely intrigue any listeners who are willing to revisit the record in full. From track to track it feels incredibly loose, and to predict where Girl Band’s sonic palette will paint next is very difficult.
However, the ideas and changes of dynamics in the longer duration tracks make up for this deficit, with guitarist Alan Duggan stealing the show. Impressing with his creative ways of pushing the instrument’s potential through a multitude of effects pedals, Duggan creates a post-apocalyptic, industrialised world, not too dissimilar to what you would hear from an album like ‘Filth’ by experimental rock group Swans or a bleak landscape depicted through Daughters’ 2018 release, You Won’t Get What You Want. Duggan excels on this in ‘Laggard’, which starts off like an initial panic from a collapsing steelworks to escape the barrage of harsh materials and chemicals crashing to the floor. Adam Faulkner’s pulsating drums provide a stable backdrop to this, perfectly forming a panicked environment the listener can picture. Duggan also creates a similar vibe in penultimate track ‘Prefab Castle’, a stunning piece where delayed, rugged guitar notes sound like a siren dragging you to hell. With what sounds like the track collapsing in on itself twice in its seven-minute run, Faulkner’s primitive, at times tribal-like drum patterns make ‘Prefab Castle’ the star of the show - like the entirety of The Talkies has been building up to this point.
It’s wonderful to see Girl Band back with a refreshed approach to their work, and that their demons have subsided for now. The Talkies proves that they have avoided the sophomore slump, and that they have reaffirmed themselves at the top of Ireland’s music scene. Keeping their original sound whilst skilfully incorporating more textured, ambient soundscapes make The Talkies more rewarding after multiple listens. Fans of Holding Hands With Jamie will fall in love with this recent release, but its sonic palette will leave new listeners questioning the appeal. The Talkies is still rough around the edges and sounds like a raw, cathartic burst of energy. Fortunately, Girl Band are still keeping it under control and reigned in to still be somewhat accessible, and show that they still have time to grow their sound into a more monstrous sonic beast.
Best Track: Prefab Castle
Worst Track: Amygdela