It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how Girl Band made the jump from another rock band to one who were pursuing an entirely idiosyncratic hybrid of guitar and industrial techno but it’s probably fair too say, you don’t make that leap without something significant to kickstart it.
Holding Hands With Jamie is one of the more pummelling sonic albums that has come out in the last few years that isn’t readily classifiable in the genre of metal or industrial music and that’s partly why it’s such a great album. To arrive at something this noisy, this dissonant, this brutal with so much black humour, there has to have been a big catalyst.
For frontman Dara Kiely, the lyrics on Girl Band’s debut album were written after the depths of a breakup that brought on mental health issues that manifested itself with psychotic episodes, a breakdown and depression.
Kiely spends the album, narkily namechecking the minutiae of modern life or snatches of narrative, more often howled into the pressurised container of the music at volume: “garlic curry cheese chips!”, “spend my time watching Top Gear with my trousers down”, “why d’ya act like a bitch for?”, “Klinsmanned the taxi driver”, “nice ronnie”, “at the minute I’m throwing biscuits down O”Connell Street” or singing “petit pois” and “nutella” repeatedly.
The band match his intensity spectacularly with guitars that whirr and buzz like nasty synthesizers, drums that engulf the room in a live fashion and low-end that wipes the floor and shits on it afterward for good measure. The harshness of it all is a suitably foil for the discombobulating frame of mind that Kiely displays throughout. It sounds like post-punk, it sounds like garage-rock, it sounds like no-wave, it sounds like dirty bleedin’ techno. All and nothing.
Kiely sounds like someone who’s lost it but aware of how much (non)sense he’s making. Sometimes when young lads don’t know how to cope, they say some wry shit to hide it and Kiely’s vocals are cathartic yet skirt around the source. Kiely’s voice is a gutteral howl, a dramatic flair, a performance of confusion, often relying on the same cadence. ‘The Last Riddler’, the album’s shortest and most telling track has Kiely in a dialogue with a doctor about his state of mind, unable to directly confront himself – “Dara take a seat / no I’ll think I’ll stand … d’ya reckon Batman and Robin ever kissed?”
Holding Hands With Jamie doesn’t feature the band’s previous singles ‘Lawman’ and ‘De Bom Bom’. Their presence would have fitted sonically but negated the album’s live feel. Much of the album follows Kiely’s disturbed mood: lashing out with dynamics and shrill notes. ‘Paul’ lurches forward with a headnodding low-end but soon unravels in a wall of barrel of squall. ‘In Plastic’ sounds like a rock band trying to draw an outline of an ambient track they hear in their heads. ‘Pears For Lunch’ is the most concentrated distillation of the all the above. Only ‘Baloo’ and ‘Texting An Alien’ feel unfinished. Largely, these songs are monuments of distorted columns, leaning and looming with manic intent, unravelling and coagulating back together again: visceral and in meltdown mode.
The coiled wrestle between confrontation and escapism, both in the music and in the lyrics, is what makes Holding Hands With Jamie such an uncomfortable yet singularly brilliant album. That it uses the familiar language of rock music to do so makes it one of the albums of the year.