Most bands, in approaching the release of their debut album, move towards accessibility. Girl Band have done the opposite. Always a noisy band, their last couple of years of music has strayed ever further away from easy consumption into the esoteric. The music on Holding Hands with Jamie is denser and more structurally foreboding than anything they’ve released before.
The album is replete with deafening noise, and Dara Kiely’s vocals range from strangled yelps to semi-comprehensible mumbling. At times it approaches techno (or krautrock) in its obsession with increasingly intense reiterations of a repetitive theme, as on the exhausting ‘Fucking Butter’. The danger in this kind of extreme music is that the chaos begins to feel random, or lacking in weight. Girl Band evade that trap; every outburst on the album is as carefully sculpted as the tense moments building up to them.
The album’s centrepiece, ‘Paul’, for example, takes seven minutes to perform two slow, ominous intros to two ferocious, solid blocks of noise with screaming feedback and percussion like a recording of some demonic construction site. Here is all the bizarre horror of a latter-day Scott Walker record, all the furious intensity of Swans – but, importantly, with tongue planted firmly in cheek. When you can hear the lyrics at all, you notice lines like ‘covered in Sudocrem and talking to myself’ or ‘Nutella!’ repeated sixteen times.
This isn’t to say that the humour feels overly laddish or untrue to the tone of the music; behind each bizarre lyrical moment there’s a heartfelt emotion, as the album’s tender title attests to. Kiely spoke in interviews about the album’s origins in a ‘psychotic episode’ he experienced, and all this swirling, obscene disorder is evidently a portrait of emotional turmoil. It’s also the best avant-rock record in years.