Album Review: Goat Girl – ‘On All Fours’

Percussive, sharp-edged, and soaked in complexity, On All Fours is everything we could’ve hoped for from Goat Girl’s long-sought sophomore album. Whilst pacy synths and squalls of distortion forge a distance from previously swampy, guitar-led output, Freya Martin explores how the band’s chronicles of anxiety and defiance preserve the blazing Goat spirit.

As soon the first haunting bars of Pest reach your ears, On All Fours is unmistakably Goat Girl. Lottie Cream’s insightful and sultry vocals follow the slightly eerie opening chords, decrying the “pest from the West” - i.e. Western countries – which parasitise and exploit the rest of the world whilst epitomising the frustration and shame of our generation.

Returning with their second album since their eponymous debut in 2018, Goat Girl have re-emerged with a fresh and unexpected record showcasing a sea change in style and technique, yet no less perceptive in their lyricism. The writing process for On All Fours took a different direction than previous material, which had been predominantly led by Cream. This time around, it focused on a more collaborative effort combined with swapping each other’s instruments, resulting in a collection of tracks overflowing with complexity and texture, not to mention a splendidly experimental and synths-heavy sound.

‘Song subjects dart effortlessly from themes of human destruction and imagined worlds to illustrations of mental health.’

Badibaba, the fruit of one of these experimental writing sessions, is a perfect example of the way in which a wonderful result can emerge from exchanging instruments and sharing the writing process. Guitarist and vocalist L.E.D’s descending melody swerves through an organic bassline alongside awkward synths and popping drumbeat. Combative lyrics reference humankind’s exploitation of the planet and our deliberate ignorance of the resultant destruction: “Burn it / Use it up / Hang it from the setting sun / Carry on like we’re protected / As if we’re unaffected.” These are echoed further by anthemic, reverb-soaked choruses of “badibadibaba.”

Whilst On All Fours is carefully crafted as a cohesive body of work, each track is strikingly different from its predecessor and neighbours in both lyrics and style, each one with a stand-alone identity. The collaboration of writing effort is clear from both a lyrical point of view and in the variation of tone from one song to the next; the aural and physical discomfort of They Bite on You and the surreal imaginings of The Crack heightening the sensitive rawness and honesty of Anxiety Feels.

The Crack has an intense groove from the off, more reminiscent of early Goat Girl, yet lyrically depicts a bizarre scenario of humanity escaping planet Earth as she cries out for help. The record as a whole is lyrically visual, as song subjects dart from themes of human destruction and imagined worlds to illustrations of mental health, the shrewd yet nuanced lyrics discussing issues afflicting our generation on a personal and global scale both eloquently and disturbingly vividly.

“Take my hand / Let me show you around / It’s the same old place / To the streets, we’re bound,” beckons Lottie on Sad Cowboy – the standout track from the album – perfectly demonstrate this rich sound and visual lyrics. She sings of an imagined world inside her head, alluding to a certain disconnected loneliness and detachment from others, yet there is an irony in that the song itself beckons you to dance. Layered vocals are surrounded by enthralling, pithy synths, and followed by a spaced-out instrumental section reminiscent of noughties-era club music.

‘Shrewd and subversive, PTS.Tea is a continuation of the essential discourse and understanding of non-binary gender identity.’

It is clear that Goat Girl have grown in both maturity and perspective since their last album, better able to express their personal difficulties and experiences. Slower, yet still complex and insightful, the stripped back and peaceful poignancy of Anxiety Feels explains the reality of living with mental health struggles. Rich with instrumentation and emotive harmonies, the track is visceral and honest as L.E.D. relives her daily challenges and internal battles: “Take my head in my hands / This wasn’t planned / Can’t stand it / Feel my feet on the earth / you’ve taken my breath away”.

Contrastingly triumphant, yet equally as poignant, is PTS.Tea, an ode to drummer Rosy Bones’ struggle with their gender identity and other people’s toxic masculinity. Circular, overdubbed vocals create a sense of turmoil and confusion as the lyrics address the entitlement of men who attempt to categorize them and disregard courtesy or respect. Shrewd and subversive, PTS.Tea is a continuation of the essential discourse and understanding of non-binary gender identity, while triumphant horns serenade Bones as a vital representative of queer and non-binary folk in the music industry.

Not a second of On All Fours is wasted, both musically and lyrically – each and every track containing a powerful and pertinent message. Though written pre-pandemic, many of the songs are applicable to our new awareness of both each other and the global plight. Indeed A-Men could easily have been written as a reflection of the Covid-19 crisis and our naïvety, the nostalgic lyrics are given added poignance in this post-pandemic world. Unlike their first album, where dark basslines and Lottie’s heady vocals often took center stage, On All Fours has a brighter, fresher sound where the vocals are interwoven with instrumentation and more subtle in their confrontational lyricism.

Unlucky for some, in thirteen brilliant tracks, Goat Girl have managed to demonstrate their range and capability as musicians as well as to elucidate their experiences and a new perspective to their listeners. This album is certainly a stroke of good fortune for the four-piece, and even more so for us as eager consumers, an astounding example of the skill and artistry of this powerful band.

Written by: Freya Martin

Edited by: Olivia Stock

Article image courtesy of Goat Girl via Facebook.