by Kelly Johnson
There’s an intense but soothing quality caused when you plug in a guitar, turn the volume to ear-splitting levels and pound away on the strings. Concerns and distractions are drowned out by a concentrated source of noise generated right from your own fingers. It’s a completely exhilarating feeling that creates bands and musicians every day. The infatuation with that noise has formed countless bands in many genres: punk to shoegaze to black metal to post rock. Turning that infatuation into a palatable listening experience is the tricky part (not always the point). Girl Band excel at both. Holding Hands with Jamie is an audacious debut for a band. It’s an experiment in ideas and frankly, an awesome record in sound as much as in statement.
Girl Band’s EP The Early Years (released this past April on Rough Trade) showed a band fascinated with the cacophony they found exploring their instruments. Sounding like equal parts Public Image Ltd and LCD Soundsystem, the release hinted at the band creating a new sound that was not only powerful and rhythmic, but also unique. Holding Hands with Jamie doesn’t exactly stray from the formula they established on The Early Years, but it finds all sorts of ways to undercut the listener’s expectations while continuing their exploration with noise.
The two lead singles from the album, “Pears for Lunch” and “Paul” operate on the same kind of constant rhythmic tension set forth in their earlier work (“Lawman,” “De Bom Bom”). Singer/howler Dara Kiely still delivers non-sequiturs in his James Murphy by way of Mark E. Smith deadpan until the moment of screaming catharsis. But it’s the rest of the curveballs on the album that are the most intriguing.
Like the work of noise-and-rhythm experimenters Liars, it’s only after repeated listens does Holding Hands with Jamie slowly reveal itself as a whole. Initially, “In Plastic,” with its memorable Blur-like melody (one of the few sing-along-able moments on the album) on top a dreamy circus beat, can seem to plod in comparison to the more immediate tracks here. But after a while I found myself lulled by the floating guitars. Sometimes the band will deflate the balloon midway through the song (“Baloo”) and just ride out the rhythm. These dynamics let the listener breathe before working up to the next sprint ahead.
Holding Hands with Jamie is not the innocent or intimate listening experience the title might suggest. Drums frequently sound like they were recorded on the other side of a giant room and guitar and bass are drenched in reverb. Actual notes are generally foregone in favor of ascending and descending slides down the neck. Sometimes it’s a shame, as guitarist Alan Duggan and bassist Daniel Fox are clearly playing interesting parts. On the whole though, it’s effective in creating Girl Band’s uneasy and tense world.
Whether indicative of a band still experimenting to find its voice or of one not content to settle on a sound, Girl Band’s debut album is an exciting one. They’re pushing themselves and forcing the listener to adhere to their own rules. Noise infatuists take note.