PHOTO CREDIT: Rich Gilligan
The track, Couch Combover, is available via:
The album, The Talkies, is available via:
27th September, 2019
Rough Trade Records Ltd.
I wasn’t able to publish this review yesterday…
PHOTO CREDIT: Steve Gullick
because of laptop troubles and a bit of disruption. In a way, it has given me chance to spend a bit more time listening to Girl Band and get to grips with their new album. I have selected a song from the album and will talk about that but, before I get there, I will chart a few things that are important. I want to discuss mental-health and bands that face the realities of the road and life. I want to move on to coming back to touring after having time away; artists whose music has its own stamp and steps beyond the generic; a little nod to Dublin once more; a slight nod to Post-Punk and a new movement; I will step on to look at where Girl Band might head next. Let’s start with the subject of the band and the fact they have been away for a little while. Holding Hands with Jamie is their 2015 debut and it has been four years since that album came out. Their lead, Dara Kiely, has suffered from mental-health issues and that has caused some disruption in the band. It is hard today to hide mental-health issues and carry on as normal. Such are the demands of the music industry, one cannot really carry on with their regular duties and life and cope with mental-health issues – not in a healthy way at least. I think there is more awareness right now but there has not been in the past few years; awareness has come about and there is more discussion. Before going on, I want to bring in an interview from Loud and Quiet where we learn about the break the band has taken and how things seem more positive with Girl Band:
“It’s been a fragmented few years for the band. They were forced to cancel several shows due to health reasons, and given the openness with which singer Dara Kiely had previously spoken about his ongoing issues with mental health it left some wondering if the proper return of the band will ever happen.
The band’s debut, and ensuing interviews, spoke candidly about the difficult period Kiely had been through: when we spoke in 2015 for issue 71 of Loud And Quiet he told me how he went from “pure highs to crippling lows”, staying up for a week straight, spending months in hospital, living in a tent for a while and even undergoing a temporary delusional state in which he thought he was God. The lyrics on the album were a direct reflection of this too: “Well, you’re not God mate and your mother’s scared,” he expelled on ‘The Last Riddler’. And on ‘Pears For Lunch’ he screeched: “Spend my time watching Top Gear with my trousers down. Covered in Sudocrem and talking to myself.”
Sat in a pub the band tells me about getting back together and how in some ways the long break has benefited the album. “Because we were away and not active in a public sense, it just removed any sense of outside pressure,” says guitarist Alan Duggan. “Or any feeling of: ‘shit we need to get this done by this time.’ It was nice to just be able to write and then record when we were ready. That was a really positive aspect; any momentum that people get when moving onto the second record I imagine it can put a bit of weird pressure on it, but the fact we had that time off and were able to just go back in with no real consideration of what would happen after was really nice”.
It is hard to factor in mental-health problems and continue with music. So many artists do live with psychological issues and, whilst it can be beneficial to the music, it takes a lot out of you. I am glad Girl Band are back and seem to be looking to the future. It is great to see but I know there will be other artists in the same position as them. The modern industry is so competitive and challenging that this puts extra pressure on artists to succeed and keep going. The sheer effort needed to promote a track/album is immense; so many hours go into the promotional cycle. I do worry there is a lot of expectation put onto the shoulders and it can be a really hard business. Let’s hope things improve in that respect.
PHOTO CREDIT: Jenn Five
Not only have Girl Band adapted to time away, they have had to get back into touring. It is easy enough taking some time off and thinking about improvement. Maybe it was difficult for Girl Band to be apart but it was needed for many reasons. What happens when you get back together and have to get back on the road? It is a whole new process getting back to your best and galvanising. That is what Girl Band have had to do. In this feature, we learn more about that problem:
“He admits to being understandably apprehensive about playing again. “We started practising a few days ago and I was a bit nervous beforehand, but then it was muscle memory and everything was fine. It’s really enjoyable playing again because we haven’t played stuff like ‘Lawman’ in ages.”
There’s a palpable sense of excitement about playing live together again, after such a long time away. This time they’ll play fewer shows (so it doesn’t feel “like a slog,” says Alan). They’re also hoping for dancing. “There’s something really gratifying about seeing a crowd dancing together,” says Daniel. “Also I don’t like mosh pits when I go to gigs – I’m like 5 foot 6 so it’s really annoying…”
It seems like the band have apprehensions about gigs in general, but it is clear the time they spent apart has affected them. I do wonder whether, alongside promotion online, there is a lot of expectation regarding touring commitments. In all, Girl Band have faced a lot and come out the other side. Now that The Talkies is out and gathering some immense reviews, they will be hitting the road hard! They are going to travel all over the place and it will be a chance to bring this new material to the people. I guess they have had opportunity to adapt and get settled back in but, still, one feels like the whole touring thing takes a lot out of them. It must be the same with most acts. Not only do you have the strain and stress of having to get the music made and heard, you then have the demands of the road and the sort of energy that requires.
The modern scene is as difficult as you can imagine but I am not down on it completely. I do think people have time to rest now and then but there is less chance than once was. Girl Band are a perfect example of a band who, for several reasons, have taken some time away and come back strong. I do think they will be cautious when it comes to date and how far they push themselves. It is brilliant they have an album out but it is all too easy doing tonnes of gigs and getting burned out. That can set them back and mean that they will need to take a lot of time off. Their music is so charged and explosive that a single performance must leave them shattered! One can only imagine the sheer demand and physicality required to complete a gig! I shall move on to another subject in a bit but I wanted to look at touring and the link with mental-health. Naturally, performance can be a release and provide great relief for artists. Whilst it is tough and draining going around the world, the connection with the audience and the bond within the band will strengthen them and give them energy. I wish the lads the best of luck on the road and I do hope they get a few days here and there to kick back and unwind. They have faced quite a lot of disruption over the years and I feel they are more refreshed and focused. Mental-health is very much in the spotlight in 2019. Contemporary bands like IDLES have documented it and, where once the subject was almost taboo, now there is a lot more exposure and interaction. I still think the music industry needs to look at the sheer weight of promotion and what an artist has to go through. There needs to be some sort of mechanism and intervention whereby acts like Girl Band are not given too many dates and are looked over carefully by labels and promoters. That might seem like nannying, but one cannot ignore the very real damage that can come from too much work and pressure.
PHOTO CREDIT: Rich Gilligan
Moving on to more positive and individual subjects, we arrive at the feet of Girl Band’s lyrics. I still think a lot of bands suffer the fate of having lumpen lyrics and are very restricted. It is odd seeing artists succeed when their music is so generic and uninspiring. There are no such problems when it comes to Girl Band. They capture you with their words and their music. Going beyond the boundaries of Post-Punk, the guys have their own little world and sound. I don’t want to label this as a new genre, but it is evident Girl Band have a very original look and feel. When it comes to their second album, I think they have improved and strengthened as a unit. The music seems more nuanced and there are some lovely details here and there. The performances are incredible and, to me, it is the lyrics that stand out the most. When looking at the album a couple of days back, DIY had this to say:
“Across ‘The Talkies’, the lyricist’s words are nothing less than bonkers, adding a whole new layer of surrealism to an album already dripping in it. “Gonna Barbie a Ken on a barbwire fence” is the most twisted threat we’ve maybe ever heard in song, while elsewhere he ponders, “what happened to Teletext?” and references cult Dutch footballer Jaap Stam. Comeback single ‘Shoulderblades’, meanwhile, revolves around the hook “It’s like a hat for Ed Mordake”, referencing the subject of an urban legend who was believed to have an extra face on the back of his head.
As lyric-writing started for the album, Dara decided that he wanted to set himself another challenge: to include no pronouns. “[It’s] something I always wanted to do, because I’ve never heard an album that does that,” he says. He and his band - consciously or otherwise - seem to thrive on doing things that no other band are managing or even trying. “It was really hard, but I got there,” the frontman chuckles. “There’s a lot of ‘it’s in there. I really can’t stand ‘forever and a day’, ‘catch you when you fall’ kinda lyrics, and I love the idea of making up fake cliches,” he continues”.
I am a big fan of lyrics and love the fact Girl Band have done things their own way. It is hard not including pronouns in music and setting that challenge but Girl Band did that. They are a little out-there and unique but that gives the music extra edge, surprise and brilliance. I do think the band market is starting to resurge and spike. There was a time fairly recently when bands were pretty quiet and the solo artist was ruling. I think the solo artist still has the majority share but bands are coming back. What strikes me about bands is that, in the past, the songs concerned relationships and were fairly narrow. I think we have seen this new wave of more political and interesting bands who have a much wider palette. I am not sure whether this is a sign of things to come but, as I shall explain, Post-Punk is offering a new world. One of the reasons artists remain and continue to impress years down the line is their characteristics and style. If you have bands copying one another or writing about the same thing, it gets really boring and samey. Bands now seem much more agile and are considering the music and lyrics carefully. Girl Band are among the most intriguing acts around right now. I do like the fact the lyrics are a little strange. In a way, they are a bit similar to black midi – another band that are a bit on the fringes when it comes to convention and predictability. Maybe it is the times in which we live, but there is a new rise of bands that are shouting loud and saying something really important. It does seem like we are entering a new golden age regarding bands; a long way from where we were a few years ago. One can look at the scene right now and find so many interesting and compelling artists. There are particular areas of the world one cannot ignore. I think Dublin is really cooking right now.
I have already investigated Fontaines D.C. who, apart from releasing the epic Dogrel, were nominated for a Mercury Prize for said album. There is great Post-Punk everywhere but there is something magical happening in Dublin. Whilst we have articles concentrating on specific Irish artists, I do not think there is anything online that talks about cities like Dublin and how productive they are. The focus always seems to be on London and, given the Mercury Prize was won by a London-based artist (Dave), how often do we look beyond the Capital? I think it is a shame that music still seems to be centered in London; that so much focus is there. If you think about Dublin right now, there are tremors happening for sure! Dara Kiely, Alan Duggan; Daniel Fox and Adam Faulkner have all had musical experience prior to Girl Band but they have grown up and matured in an area of the world that is truly exciting. Dublin has always been a hotbed but one can hear so many great new bands coming through. Maybe one can draw a line between a sense of aggression and energy and what is happening in the world right now. I do think there is a consciousness and sense of chemistry between Dublin bands when it comes to the outside world. Maybe it is a shared feeling that change needs to happen; a sense of dissatisfaction regarding politics and what is going on. Whereas other parts of Britain and Ireland are fostering terrific solo artists, Dublin is giving us the biggest and best bands of the moment. It would be a bit lazy to compare IDLES and Girl Band. They both perform Post-Punk but they are different propositions. I shall move onto another subject but I wanted to get us to think about Girl Band and what is happening in Dublin. It is amazing seeing this terrific city flourish and blossom. I think the world is changing and things are a bit scary at the moment. Girl Band are definitely reacting to that and producing music that is among the most exhilarating and fresh around.
Maybe Girl Band do not see themselves as exclusively Post-Punk. That is what they have been called by many, but I think there are other strands here and there. Again, like the lack of Dublin articles, there are not many pieces dedicated to the growth of Post-Punk and its popularity. It is clear the people want music that is honest, fearless and gripping. Whereas Girl Band are a little more lyrically oblique than some of their peers, the power of their music cannot be denied. You can listen to tracks like Couch Combover and feel refreshed and renewed. That might sound strange but there is a degree of catharsis and release. One can hear Girl Band and have the cobwebs blown away! A terrific band with a very strong and thrilling style of music, I know they will go on to big things. I should leave things now and move on to reviewing but, before I do, I want to stay with Post-Punk. I think political division has caused bands to turn up the volume and get involved. Maybe Girl Band are not as political as some but it is evident there is some stress and anxiety in their hearts that needs to come out. Rather than divide and push people away, they unite people and have this fantastic sense of togetherness. You do not need to be a big fan of Post-Punk to get behind Girl Band and understand what they are all about. It is time to move on and take a track from The Talkies. I do not review albums so, rather than do a brief little bit on each track, I have selected a song that I think defines the album. I wanted to write about Couch Combover because it is my favourite and brings all of Girl Band’s elements and brilliance together.
It is hard to discuss any Girl Band song and not have a look at the lyrics. With other artists, you can easily interpret the words and know where they come from: when it comes to Girl Band, things are a bit harder than that! What strikes me about Couch Combover is the fact there is this threatening menace and sense of danger. One hears this clawing, distant riff that is insistent and seems like it will come to the forefront. The hero talks about “Quarter naked/Get a semi in a hot topic sauna” and one is wondering what is being referenced. Maybe there is a nod to political debate and only having some of your body and soul in the argument; perhaps it is an illusion to ignorance but, as we see words about feet, wood and hairy backs, I wonder more and more whether it is political and more a stream-of-consciousness track that is there to capture a certain energy and mindset. By that, I think there is a feeling in the mind and a mood being captured; maybe not as succinct as other artists, yet it is down to the listener to decide what the words actually mean. Girl Band do not give too much away and they ensure their songs are interesting and mysterious after multiple listens. One definitely needs time and consideration to get into the song and unravel it. There is always this tension within the song regarding imminent delirium. One expects the band to burst and this tidal wave of screams to come through. Whereas some Girl Band songs do have that feeling, Couch Combover keeps you tense with this rumbling background riff and changing mood. Between the verses, the song seems to go through another gear but there is a feeling that the storm is not too far away. That unleash comes after the 2:00 marker, where we get a vocal hurricane. Up until that point, you are fascinated by the lyrics and just what the band are all about.
You can unpick the words but, in reality, I think only Girl Band know the true meaning. The beauty of Couch Combover is much more in the way the song builds and the feeling one gets. I do like the fact the band has this harmony and they sound so tight and together. Some other bands lack real depth and innovation. When it comes to Girl Band, they are always keeping things fresh and taking their songs in brilliant and unexpected directions. Rumours, fax machines and spotty little pricks are all covered and, whilst that might pertain to particular people and times, I like to think of Couch Combover as a delirious and dream-like track where various scenes and images are pieced together. The most powerful moment comes when Dara Kiely goes into wordless territory. There is a bit of The Fall to the vocals; he screams and then seems breathless. It is a fantastic moment that seems to speak louder than any others. In fact, when you hear Kiely just let the emotions out, you get a clear sense of this man exasperated and lost. Maybe it is me, but I feel the moments near the end of the song represent confusion and unburden. It is hard to put my thoughts into words (clearly), so one needs to listen to the song to see what I mean! Couch Combover is a pearl in a brilliant album that is rightfully getting a lot of love. I think there are a lot of brilliant bands around right now – Girl Band seem to be right near the top of the pile. Go and get The Talkies if you can because it is one of the best albums of 2019 so far. Girl Band seem repurposed and have fresh focus after a bit of a gap between albums. I cannot wait to see what the future holds and where the band step next. The world wants to see them perform and, looking at their tour dates, it seems like they will be pretty busy over the next couple of months. I can only imagine the thrill of seeing this brilliant band do their thing.
It has been a changeable and, at times, hard time for Girl Band. They have had to face personal problems and divisions. They have come back strong and created an album that is rich and deep. I think the band has a very long future ahead and I am so glad they are back together and performing. The guys have some U.S. dates coming up and then are back in the U.K./Ireland to gig for us. If you can get and see them then I would recommend that. They are a stunning live act and, as they get bigger and more popular, the gigs get busier. I hope the dates and travelling does not affect them too heavily and they are afforded some space and time off. I would hate to see Girl Band return to where they were or need some time out to deal with struggles. It seems to be this vicious cycle where great music can arrive from tough times; the artist then gets attention and goes on the road – that can then add new stress and they find themselves where they were before. Girl Band have come a long way since their 2015 debut and I cannot wait to see where they head next. It is a great time for music and one where there is a lot of anger about. Some artists project that aimlessly but, with Girl Band, there is this musical revelation that takes the breath and gets under the skin. They are a band who has brought people together and they have won some terrific reviews. I shall not bring any in but have a look online and see how The Talkies has been received! Such a potent band that is showing what brilliance is coming from Dublin right now. Where do they go from here? I think, once touring is done, they should recharge the batteries and will need some time to themselves. Let’s leave things there but, if you have not discovered Girl Band, make sure they are a part of your regular rotation. A sublime force of nature that are going to be around for years, these lads are…
ON a plain of their own.
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PHOTO CREDIT: Steve Gullick
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