In hindsight, Girl Band‘s emergence earlier on in the ’10s seemed to predict a coming wave of tense, violent and strange post-punk and noise rock in the British Isles. They just showed up a little bit earlier. The Dublin-based band’s early EPs and debut album Holding Hands With Jamie were guitar records in which scarcely a single guitar could be easily identified—like Daughters or Battles or Liars, they reveled in making sound itself their primary instrument, mangling and manipulating guitars, bass and drums into amorphous and ambiguous shapes amid vocalist Dara Kiely’s witty, Mark E. Smith-like barks. They’re part of a long lineage of English and Irish weirdos who challenge or outright ignore the rules of rock and punk music, but in the four years since their debut, that new wave crested: Idles, Shame, Fat White Family and Black Midi have all offered their own twisted take on post-punk, all of which feel like spiritual siblings to Girl Band’s mutant noise rock if not sonic soundalikes by any stretch.
Crowded though the field might be, Girl Band’s second album The Talkies is a solid reminder that nobody quite does what they do, at least not in the same way that they do it. Even more so than on the band’s debut, the sounds here are more alien and unrecognizable. With lead single “Shoulderblades,” every instrument more or less takes on the role of percussion, its slinky strut created by guitar tones molded into metallic shrieks. It’s essentially industrial music, right down to the horrifying subject matter. Kiely finds himself repeating the phrase, “It’s like a hat for Ed Mordake,” referencing an urban legend about a man with a second face on the back of his head. “It said ‘hello’/It was dead.”
Girl Band maintain a balance of quirky approachability and sonic terror that few bands would even bother to try to reconcile, but that duality is what makes them unique. The latter is much more pronounced on The Talkies, particularly in a song like “Couch Combover,” wherein Kiely’s chanting vocals take on an almost nursery-rhyme cadence amid a fiery blast of guitar shrapnel. The single “Going Norway” is similarly intense, searing noise and effects doing the heavy lifting rather than a proper melody, as Kiely spits a stream-of-consciousness sequence of phrases that tie back to his own mental health struggles, each orphaned phrase and disembodied expression a flash of doctor’s visits and wellness treatments: “That’s just mental/What is normal?…just say ‘Apple, Penny, Table.’” By the time “Salmon of Knowledge” arrives, the group has given in fully to an overbearing turbulent squall, one that finds its rhythmic pulse late enough to separate the casual consumers to the listeners ready to immerse themselves in the din.
The Talkies is a bigger, more powerful album than its predecessor. It’s also a more outwardly hostile and difficult one, its mixture of sounds and textures sharpened and smooth until tones become obscured and indefinable in their current form. Girl Band let enough time pass that the contemporary music landscape had seemingly caught up with them, but they’ve never been the type to take a linear path or do what’s expected—if this is even the kind of band for whom predictions or expectations have any meaning. The Talkies likely isn’t going to be any sort of commercial breakthrough for Girl Band, even if the rest of the landscape’s risen up to meet them, but its violent textures and awesome presence prove their penchant for horrific abstraction as potent as ever.