After four years, an EP and a number of singles, Irish noise-punks Girl Band have finally graced us with their full length debut, and holy shit, it was worth the wait.
Featuring nine tracks, Holding Hands With Jamie captures the collective energy of a madhouse, oddly brilliant, violently beautiful and utterly terrifying musical experience.
Born out of No Wave noise and Post-Punk grooves, Girl Band have spent the past few years refining a sound all their own; rhythmic, visceral and dynamic, surpassing the monotonous try-hard screeching of many other noise bands.
On first listen, it might be a bit difficult to digest but it’s clear the band have taken their time meticulously arranging their songs for maximum effect, with builds, breaks and freakouts that are guaranteed to keep you on your toes. The beauty here is in its graceful minimalism, working like seasoned chess masters, making the most noise out of the smallest moves.
The album opens with “Umbongo,” a layering of feedback, drum bursts and a two note guitar riff. The band are incredibly tight, playing as a single, screeching unit; the sound of a vulture war machine. At 1:45, the song drops to make room for the metallic vocals, half sung over a pretty drone that is both soothing and unsettling.
Just when it feels safe, the band build it back up, climaxing with a psychotic noise like terror. This sets the tone for the record–showing the band as madmen, completely in control, taking the listener through twisting structures of noise and rhythm that may be unfamiliar (say goodbye to your comfortable verse/chorus patterns) but the results are strangely satisfying.
“Pears For Lunch” is a more traditional song, similar to their earlier material, which gives the audience a chance to collect themselves after the jarring introduction of “Umbongo.” Like their earlier stuff, it builds on a simple pattern, subtly adding and subtracting elements and texture under darkly humorous lyrics before devolving into chaos.
“Baloo” comes in with the rhythmic clinking of a guitar before the minimal bass and drums bring the groove with some oddly appropriate influences, from jazz to funk that somehow perfectly compliment the suicidally sarcastic vocals.
The waltz of “In Plastic” breaks things up with a beautiful, much needed break before the seven-minutes of insanity that make up “Paul,” the strange single that makes a lot more sense in context.
It’s here that the band’s signatures are the most audible–with an emphasis on dynamics and scratchy minimalist rhythms from every instrument (especially Daniel Fox’s brilliant, bendy, chromatic fuzz bass grooves) to back Dara Kiely’s carefree and sarcastic talk singing. It is appropriate that the band became known after covering Blawan’s terror-techno “Why They Hide Their Bodies…”, as the influence is oddly persistent across their catalog, with a stronger focus on groove, texture and repetition than melody or chord structure.
One of the great strengths of Holding Hands With Jamie is in the track sequence–each song plays perfectly off the last, anticipating the listeners needs to capture their full attention. In this case, placing the 1:20 straight ahead punk mouthful that is “The Last Riddler” after the taxing “Paul” was brilliant, and putting the gleefully manic, stoned stream of conscious that is “Texting An Alien” after that proves that this wasn’t just some fluke.
Injecting this psychedelic sense of fun was genius, because the penultimate “Fucking Butter” is another one that will certainly take a few listens before it fully reveals itself. It’s a slow build and a snare drum that sounds like a machine gun, with subtle musical, lyrical and melodic references to the previous tracks on the album.
It’s tracks like this where I’m desperate for a lyric sheet, because the broken fragments you can pick up over the rhythm, drone, reverb and feedback are fantastic, but it’s often hard to piece it together as a cohesive whole due to its inherently difficult nature. This isn’t a problem though, as it means there will be more to search for on repeat listens, though I’d really like more insight as to why Kiely starts screaming “Nutella! Nutella! Nutella!” six minutes in.
Similarly, closing track “The Witch Dr” is a complete mindfuck, with distorted vocals being shouted like a mad auctioneer at a train station, an image courtesy of Adam Faulkner’s propulsive grooves and Alan Duggan’s vicious, squealing guitars. It breeds an insane fascination that demands a number of listen and is best played loud.
Often times I’ll know a record is great if I can instantly go for repeat plays. This is not the case with Holding Hands With Jamie: after each of my numerous run throughs, I’ve sat in silence for a good 20 minutes just to let the whole thing sink in. It’s exceptional; violently inventive, showing a talented young band working for the songs as a fluid group. The only negative thing I can think about the record is how sad it is that many people will turn it off after one song, giving you looks like you’re insane for recommending it.
As minimal as the production is, it works well for the songs, which are so tightly wound that any additional textures would just distract from the core elements. Holding Hands With Jamie is by far one of the most exciting records I’ve heard in some time, and their live shows are sure to be insane. They’ll be touring through Christmas, and thankfully they’ll be traveling across the US, so expect to see me at the California shows.