Album Review: Girl Band - 'The Talkies'
Louis shares his thoughts on navigating 'The Talkies' - the sensitive, confusing and exciting latest offering from Girl Band.
It takes mere seconds of listening to Dublin post-punk outfit Girl Band’s sophomore album, The Talkies, to realise that this is a band that deals almost completely in discomfort. These are not songs that want to hold your hand. These are songs that want to rip you out of your comfort zone, leave you somewhere entirely alien and watch as you panic hopelessly. I can’t help but think that this is entirely intentional.
Frontman Dara Kiely is very familiar with the feeling of panic. He suffers from very acute mental health problems, and this album is a brutally honest depiction of how it feels to see the world through the lens of anxiety and depression. For example, the very first track, Prolix, is simply two minutes of droning with Kiely’s strained breathing on top. As the breaths becomes increasingly frantic, he seems to be sucking in air for dear life. However, what initially strikes as a disturbing piece of performance art takes on a deeply macabre dimension when you realise that this is a genuine recording of Dara having a panic attack in the studio. Add that to the fact that ‘prolix’ quite literally means ‘too many words’, you start to comprehend that this is his way of conveying what a panic attack can do to you without verbalising it at all. Incredibly powerful stuff, and we’re only one track in.
The Talkies exists in a landscape with a far more vibrant post-punk scene than the one that Girl Band left when they went on hiatus back in 2015. Screeching guitars are very much in vogue, and you can’t help but draw comparisons with slightly more mainstream contemporaries such as IDLES. However, I’m afraid the comparison flounders there, as Girl Band seem to have almost developed in a vacuum, away from the rest of alternative guitar music. With their brutal mix of industrial, noise and more familiar elements of punk and post-rock, they sound almost nothing like any other band around. This is outsider art at its finest.
'These are songs that want to rip you out of your comfort zone, leave you somewhere entirely alien and watch as you panic hopelessly'.
Although some of Kiely’s hooks (if you can call them that) stick in the mind, there’s no singable choruses or familiar riffs here. In fact, the vocals tend to fill the place of a typical lead guitar, with little to no regard for coherent lyrics, and the guitars are content to just accent the furious noise. It’s as if each member has decided to deploy their instrument in a way completely different from its intended use.
This technique comes off with magnificent effect on the singles Shoulderblades, Going Norway and Salmon of Knowledge, all of which avoid conventional structures like the plague. Divebombing guitars pushed far beyond the realm of distortion screech through the mix; Kiely’s vocals are almost never where you’d expect to find them among the sonic texture; the drums are used to colour the weird, angular rhythms of the tracks more than they’re ever used to hold down the beat. It comes off incredibly well in putting you off-balance straight away – I found myself having to listen to tracks on repeat before I felt I comfortably understood what they were trying to get at. Indeed, I think that’s part of the beauty of this group – they use very unconventional methods to place you into a constantly fluctuating head space, never settling down for even a moment.
'With their brutal mix of industrial, noise and more familiar elements of punk and post-rock, they sound almost nothing like any other band around. This is outsider art at its finest'.
A perfect example of this aggressively odd approach to structure is Shoulderblades. Starting with a murmuring drone swirling in the background, Kiely’s free-associative lyrics are issued above like a street preacher, or a chain gang chant. You feel like the context of his words is very much a secondary concern for him; rather, he aims to communicate more of a feeling, a state of mind. Indeed, because of this knack for the feeling, rather than literal meaning, of the lyrics, many of the songs leave you with a memory of an odd, off-kilter rhythm. Certainly, when I tried to remember which song it was that I had stuck in my head, I could only fill in my own rough approximations of the lyrics. But this is what I love about Girl Band – they’ve managed to induce such strong feelings without ever bothering with typical lyrical narratives, or even lucid sentences.
The lyrics to this album contain another curiosity too; they are written entirely without the use of pronouns. This is deliberate, as Kiely wished to avoid platitude and cliché, but it also serves to narrow the gap between listener and artist. It works perfectly, making the songs more stream-of-consciousness than anything else and putting you directly inside the tracks, rather than simply feeling like an observer. To add to this uniformity, the album is written entirely in one key (although to be honest, you’d never notice; the furious noise of this record seems to sit outside of typical realms of tone and timbre).
The record as a whole is a perfect example of how to use a modern punk album as a narrative and emotional device. Sensitive, abrasive and above all unique, The Talkies is never boring, and always fascinating. Equal parts terror, confusion, beauty and passion, Girl Band have created a monolithic testament to post-punk and I for one cannot wait to see what they do next.