by Nick McGuire (@nickemcguire)
When Goat Girl knocked onto the South London scene and signed with Rough Trade a couple years ago, the four-piece had released little to no music. And still after they took their time. Thanks to their patience, their eponymous debut sounds self-assured and distinct, with dirty guitars that take surreal but playfully smart turns.
Goat Girl is probably supposed to sound terrifying. Many of their songs engage that side of shoegaze/indie rock in which dissonance and gregorian monk-like harmonies are pleasurable. Its opening song, “Salty Sounds” is a minute’s worth of ghastly, morphing textures that sound like a slow-growing shadow rising from a pool of ominous liquid (you know, horror film stuff). In the second song, “Burn the Stake,” their lead Clottie Cream sings, “Build a bonfire, build a bonfire / put the Tories on the top.” With a witch hunt metaphor at play, the song is downright violent. The third is titled “Creep”—it doesn’t get much more obvious what template Goat Girl is going for.
But that’s a misinformed word. Template suggests Goat Girl works within boundaries and follows the footprints in the snow of its predecessors. Goat Girl is anything but that. Sure, there are reminders of similar groups, but what sort of fickle listener tries to line those up and play detective: “aha! You borrowed this idea from Diet Cig!” Get a job, man.
More than terrifying, Goat Girl is fun and absurd. Try not to sing along during “Creep” when Cream sings, “I want to smash your head in.” Discussing a smelly, grossly-stained Train Creep, the song never wavers from disturbing, but with catchy lyrics it’s hard to pin down. What’s most impressive about this song, and Goat Girl in general, is the ability to get in and get out. At 2:22, it’s long compared to other tracks. Instead of pounding a narrative into 4 minutes, Goat Girl hovers around a central musical phrase, lyrical idea, or a string of words, never pushing beyond a limit. While that would be limiting for others, on a record that has 19 songs it’s downright mind-boggling how full yet short each track is.
In each song Goat Girl genre-bends. From psych-rock to hardcore, even to the sci-fi fusion they describe themselves as. On “Cracker Drool,” which may be my favorite, Naima Jelly picks a whimsical bass line that gets Goat Girl into a brief surf rock moment. “I Don’t Care pt. 2” somehow improves on the first part: with lyrics that outline a worldview in which solipsism works because everyone else is solipsistic—“I don’t care what the people say / the people don’t care anyway”—the song changes from simple fingerpicking to beautiful harmonies over fiery hardcore.
Let’s not forget the strange one minute interludes like “Hank’s theme” and “Salty Sounds” that create weird, tiny pocket universes of music that breathe an aesthetic much like The Caretaker’s An Empty Bliss Beyond this World. Basically, Goat Girl won’t sound entirely new. It will have its influences and inspirations, but those are wide-ranging as they bump into each other on every track.