If you weren’t already enthused by Belfast’s Girls Names now is the time, their second album is their best yet…
Since their appearance in 2010, Girls Names’ music has mostly taken its inspirations and palette from the fringes of rock music of the ’80s and early ’90s. Elements of the the yearning grandeur of Joy Division, the guitar tones of Beat Happening, the atmospherics of The Jesus and Mary Chain, the jangle of ’60s surf-rock, the post-punk of Scotland’s Josef K, the spindly sound of new wave can be found. Whether by accident or osmosis, their music breathes the alternative side of guitar music.
The New Life, the band’s second album is the sound of a band, who have gone from a two-piece to three-piece to four in a couple of years, expanding not only their number of members but their craft.
The term expansion is apt because the production and mixing on The New Life is what brings the album right up from good to great. Mixed and engineered by someone called Ben along with Cully, it’s reverb-heavy warm, pristine and blurred sound is an evocative and full-bodied match to the atmosphere.
If there was a recent comparison in terms of a refinement and an evolution of how things are expressed, it’s The Horrors’ album Primary Colours. The eight-minute title track ‘The New Life’ is a wash of guitar noise and a hypnotic rhythm much like ‘Sea Within A Sea’ marked The Horrors’ transition to something more mature. That’s not to say Girls Names were playing around before.
If you think in terms of colours (no synaesthesia required), then the discography of Girls Names would evoke austere tones; drab greys, pale blues and dark browns. The New Life is much more detailed: pitch blues, powder greys and mahogany browns. I know it’s journalistically pretentious to compare sound to colours but the point is, those nuances have been amplified, expanded and made distinctive.
Those aforementioned influential touchstones have been refined. There’s no room for the spastic jangly guitar riffs heard on ‘Graveyard’ or ‘I Could Die’ because in general, the songs are in lower deeper tempos than before. It’s the transition from garage rock to deeper post-punk and the unshackling of sounds associated with most lo-fi rock.
The disembodied new-romantic vocals of Cathal Cully set the tone on ‘Pittura Infamante’, lank guitar riffs that slither, bass that leads the way in the dark, and organ sounds contribute to the pervasive mood. Emphasis is on creating a mood over its tracklisting than singling out individual songs. It’s rather languid compared to previous releases but the bleakness is more evocative than anything they’ve done.
But it’s not all doom, gloom and looking at your shoes. There are many moments of captivating sonics; whether it’s the burst of angular guitar in ‘Drawing Lines’, the psychedelic swathes that envelope ‘Occultation’, the restrained energetic tones of ‘Notion’ or hypnotic arrangement of ‘The New Life’ to name several.
The New Life is not a depressing listen, it’s a more contemplative, stylistically coherent mood piece. Like the title suggests, it’s a renewal. Girls Names are anew.
The New Life is out on Tough Love/Slumberland Records. The band are on tour now with a Skinny Wolves Dublin gig taking place in The Grand Social on Thursday February 21st with support from Ginnels and The Last Sound. To win a pair of tickets, email firstname.lastname@example.org with GIRLS NAMES in the title.