EP Review: GFE - ‘Persuade U’

Sleepy, escapist dream-pop with a gritty post-punk aftertaste, GFE’s newest EP, Persuade U sees the budding London foursome tug at the constraints of genre and style with hypnotic success. The Mic’s Editor-in-Chief Olivia Stock delves beneath the boor and bedlam to uncover perhaps the band’s most intricate project to date. 

As neo-shoegaze hotshots Splashh disbanded and a bout of stubborn vocal nodules saw Matt Fletcher’s solo EP postponed indefinitely, the emphatic post-punk affair GFE was born of the wreckage. Or perhaps more precisely, the Royal Oak pub in East London where Matt Fletcher and Tom Beal bonded over a shared love of Wire and Spiritualized. A week later, the pair found themselves in a studio together, and with help from friends Oscar Roberton (drums) and Dave Bardon (guitar), have been making music together ever since. August’s EP, Persuade U is the latest glittering fruits of their labour. 

Along with the rest of the band's projects to date, the new EP was released under in-house label, ‘Outpatient Records’; a venture born of the euphoria and success of their debut show supporting scrappy alt-rocker’s Yak, at The Shacklewell Arms in Dalston. Such DIY sensibilities are integral to GFE’s scrupulous sound and ethos, and the band’s entire discography is home-brewed in their own rustic, East London studio. Though thoroughly enjoyable and laden with raucous wah-pedal riffs, the band’s debut full-length Struggle Sessions failed to strike gold in a hotly saturated post-punk scene. The genre's bold, brash and hook-laden recipe for success is wearing ever thin, but GFE seem to have fervently penned their sound on their idiosyncratic new EP, Persuade U. Here, the edges are mangled and the finish smudged; the collective sound greater than ever. 

Losing is a fragile new-age romper that feels like it’s going to fall apart at any moment, but sounds all the better for it.

The shimmering, synth-punk affair Sinners, sets the tone for an EP of many shades. 90’s flecked and with all the fuzz of post-reformation Ride, it blends conceptual instrumentation in a way that's both subversive and nostalgic. “Where the sinners go, I go,” Fletcher croons atop a satiny Numan-esque synth line, imbuing the EP's first distinct sense of the latter. Disembodied, spacey keys however, maintain a prominent sense of modern punk experimentalism, melding the traditional and the contemporary in a single sonic expanse. Harking to genres of surf and shoegaze, as well as punk and goth, which dominate elsewhere on the EP, Sinners is amongst the symposium’s least abrasive. Teeming with energy and doused in kraut-rock persistence, here GFE sound more like Squid than Slowdive; a welcomed transition towards a more distinctive, progressive sound.

Fletcher’s fatalistic drawl mingles with neoteric, electronic flecks on the delightfully odd, Losing. Here, a pacy, electronic beat that could have been plucked straight from the second volume of Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works sits, and staggeringly comfortably, alongside tenebrous punk-styled vocals. The effect is a track that is at once incontestably dense and effortlessly airy, lulling the listener into a false sense of blissful, technodelic security before Fletcher’s jarring drone drags them back to modernity. It’s only in the track’s final minute that the elements descend into bedlam; a silky, sax line emerging from the wreckage to dredge it to a tempestuous conclusion. Losing is a fragile new-age romper that feels like it’s going to fall apart at any moment, but sounds all the better for it.

Succeeding Losing’s bluster, the titular Persuade U and it’s finger-picked bassline feels somewhat stark. The vocals, though swirling, linger rather than cascade, and the effect is a bizarre yet blissful dose of hypnotic minimalism. At more moments than one, the track feels like an experimental jam session that slipped incidentally onto the track-list, but that is precisely the triumph of it. Whilst moments on Struggle Sessions felt cluttered - every light pause crammed with a drum-fill or guitar regression - Persuade U is spacious, bordering on sparse, and each of the sprawling elements feel utterly vital to the mix. Particularly important to the track’s infectious groove are Fletcher’s peculiar array of vocal mannerisms. Unpredictable and incongruous, he drifts in and out of key without rhyme or reason before returning to the unmistakable maxim - “I won’t try to persuade you.” Though no persuasion is needed that this is a compelling, albeit odd, title track. 

Take Me On This Ride is a more complex affair. Beneath vocals fuzzed-up beyond comprehension and sparse, washing percussion, an 8-bit sounding synth arpeggio provides the tracks’ only remnants of structure. This formlessness is at once the track's biggest asset and anchor, contributing to the EP’s arresting sense of decay, whilst risking a descent into inchoate, experimental drivel. Unburdening themselves from the shackles of structure and melody, here the band allow their imaginations to drift without limitation, invariably resulting in a very particular kind of formless torment.

Like a corroded Mac DeMarco, Fletcher laments about lost love in an incessant, apathetic drawl, before getting lost amongst the track’s washing dreamscapes.

Amidst the disembodied keys and chattering synths, the minor-key refrains of “Take me on this ride / Won’t you take me outside with you” become increasingly warped and desperate; teetering perilously on the line between disorder and discomfort. The tracks accompanying music video however, though soaked in a similar dingy ambience, is imbued with a message of hope. Here, an elderly woman encounters what appears to be a younger version of herself; the pair sharing hazy tokes of cigarettes and painting each other in florid colours before retreating into the darkness. 

Though open about their limited financial resources, the band have dabbled in the visual arts with increasing fervour throughout their career; beginning with the video for 2019's The Operation which

wittily captures the sense of alienation and dissolution that accompanies going beneath the knife. Featuring a lucid primary colour scheme, a crowd of gaudy onlookers peering through the screen, and Fletcher's insatiable croons of “Put that mask onto my face / Woke up in a different place,” the viewer is whisked into the operating chair, and the song bestowed an increased sense of viscerality. Dense in both sound and sentiment, the band's recent releases lend themselves even more supremely to visual art, and the stirring scenes of Take Me On This Ride help to deepen the themes of grief, loss and loneliness that underpin the newest EP.

The consequent Wake Me Up is, ironically, the EP’s drowsiest affair; melding lulling, synthetic percussion with the kind of winsome mid-tempo rhythm machines made famous by Beach House. Fittingly, any remnants of traditional structure are forgone for a series of swells and lulls which wash over the track, soaking it in a sense of effervescent nostalgia. The track’s jarring post-punk affinities are retained however, by moments of jangly, off-key vocals. Like a corroded Mac DeMarco, Fletcher laments about lost love in an incessant, apathetic drawl, before getting lost amongst the track’s washing dreamscapes. Pleasantly hazy, but nothing gets lost in the clouds.

Closer I’m Feeling Low is an abject, anti-pop affair. Light Years away from the lackadaisical balladry of Wake Me Up, and even the moodiness of Take Me On This Ride, the track further emphasises and accentuates the EP’s experimental tendencies. At its very core, the track is a sprawling, hulking mass of gloopy sounds, and cloak-and-dagger vocals from Fletcher do little to substantiate the havoc. As he slips clumsily in-and-out of the minor key, I’m Feeling Low could pass for a crooked b-side from Sorry’s 925 - glowing praise considering the London threesome’s pioneering of the apathetic ​odd-pop genre in recent years. Conceptual and experimental, it captures acutely the experience of misery, though not through the typical dwindling guitar walls and sparse instrumentalism. Instead, lumbering walls of sound echo and spiral, like incessant voices in the head, until Fletcher’s drones are indecipherable from the bedlam. Despite being the pinnacle of the EP's absurdity, I’m Feeling Low is perhaps equally it's most thoughtful.

Though 2019’s Struggle Sessions was tossed hollowly, though perhaps unfairly, onto the ever-growing pile of capricious post-punk debuts, Persuade U, with its sprawling fusion of shoegaze, new wave and electronica, has risen boldly from the wreckage. Accessibly avant-garde, it’s composite meld of peculiar pieces is spatial, sauntering and innovative; treading in the footsteps of band’s like black midi and Squid who have unburdened themselves from the tethers of form and genre in recent years.

Soaking the EP in an unbridled sense of duality, elements of contemporary electronica meld with post punk’s doctrinal bluff and bluster; a scopic mishmash of styles forged with stunning flair into something new. Marking a significant departure from the band’s earlier work and foreshadowing colossal things from their latter, Persuade U is the project that could propel GFE from shrouded underdogs to major players in the new wave, post-punk scene.

Words by: Olivia Stock

Edited by: Dominic Allum