I'll be honest: I did not enjoy Girl Band's music on first listen. After several times through, I'm now fairly convinced no one can truthfully say they "enjoy" this particular brand of hair-raising post-punk from the get go. You might be wondering how it's possible, then, that the Irish four-piece have built up such a fervid fan base in the four years since their formation, and accrued a fair amount of critical praise and hype well ahead of their first full-length release, Holding Hands with Jamie. Listening to this album feels an awful lot like you're being dragged straight towards the mouth of hell. But let me tell you this: the more you listen to these guys, the more you start to feel like maybe hell is exactly where you want to be.
Though Girl Band’s debut LP was years in coming, Jamie was actually recorded fast and furious in Dublin over just a few short days—and the resulting nine tracks are ruthless, each and every one. The very first song, “Umbongo,” almost immediately opens up to pure, violent cacophony, with guitarist Alan Duggan and drummer Adam Faulkner concurrently losing their shit for a good two minutes before abruptly reining it in to make way for Dara Kiely's ragged vocals. The song closes with another wave of din, comprised of a repetitious bleeping (something reminiscent of an electronic error or self-destruct signal), more serrated guitar and turbulent percussion, and to top it all off, layers of blood-curdling screams and roars. It's genuinely apocalyptic. As an opener, "Umbongo" feels almost sadistic, but the precision with which this absolute mayhem is executed also makes it impressive.
This is the strength of Girl Band. The noise they compose is pushed and pulled back, stretched and then mercilessly smashed in. On "Paul," Faulkner and bassist Daniel Fox methodically propel the song forward while Kiely’s drawl quickly turns from apathetic to virulent. The song’s structure might pass for verse-chorus, but it’s really better described in terms of tension; the menacing buildup is followed by a release that’s downright assaultive. The foursome also toy with different sounds and textures, as with “In Plastic,” which turns Duggan’s guitar to a warbly but still sawtoothed tool. There’s an industrial quality to their approach and, at times, an almost danceable rhythm emerges from the wreckage, most notably with the near eight-minute-long “Fucking Butter.” Meanwhile, “Texting an Alien” displays further intriguing experimentation, featuring a 5/4 time signature and an initially pleasant though eventually eerie riff.
Whether the band most enjoy challenging themselves or their listeners is still undecided, but consider this your official warning: Holding Hands with Jamie is no walk in the park. Their music enters you like a pathogen that your body instinctively wants to fight, with claws that dig deep under your skin with the intention of drawing blood. So, is my now profound appreciation for this album simply some kind of Stockholm syndrome? Have these tracks bullied me so relentlessly that I've simply thrown my hands up and said, “Fine, let’s be friends?” In short, the answer is yes. But, trust me, it’s an album that’s worth exploring to find out the long answer for yourself.