Just three years ago, Ireland’s Girl Band started to make a name for itself with the release of France 98. In retrospect, the EP feels almost quaint, what with all its riffs and hooks and guitars that sound like guitars and not a mechanical locust swarm grazing on a scrapyard full of rusted car chassis. Holding Hands with Jaime, the band’s long-gestating full-length debut, is a flayed rabbit served on a bed of live wires, all exposed nerves and twitching viscera. It’s bleak and funny and cathartic and anxiety-inducing all at once.
Holding Hands continues in the direction of the material collected on The Early Years EP, eschewing more traditional pop structures for songs that follow a kind of diagrammatic logic reminiscent of HEALTH’s early output. In an interview from the beginning of the year with Stereogum’s Ryan Leas, drummer Adam Faulkner described the progression of the group’s interest from Krautrock to minimal techno, and the impact it’s had on Girl Band’s sound. Many of the songs on Holding Hands settle into unlikely grooves and test the limits of the listener’s endurance through repetition. Take, for instance, mid-album single “Paul.” Its bedrock is Daniel Fox’s queasy, oddly-signatured bass groove, with Faulkner’s pitter-patter drum beat set gingerly atop it. The song’s intensity builds slowly, punctuated by blasts of roiling id courtesy of Alan Duggan’s most Rowland S. Howard-esque guitar work.
I hear a lot of Mark E. Smith in Dara Kiely’s singing, his voice drunkenly careening every-which-way over his bandmates’ fractured melodies, spouting bizarre non sequiturs faster than we can process them. The effect is usually pretty damn funny, such as when he laments “I look crap with my top off” over the motorik groove of “Pears for Lunch,” or when he’s shrieking “Nutella” over and over during the bridge on “Fucking Butter.” On rare instances, though, he proves he’s capable of mining darker territory to rather chilling effect. Speaking of a self-described “professionally trained surgeon” on album opener “Umbongo,” Kiely moans, “He didn’t mind if he was a cannibal/ Simply just liked to eat animals.” The song itself is a four-minute masterpiece of blunt-force trauma and creeping dread. Duggan spends nearly the first half of its running length putting his effects pedals through the paces, pausing here and there for Faulkner to inject some Boredoms-like drum fills; but when Kiely finally kicks in with the verse, the song settles into an eerie stillness that’s eventually broken by a pulsating guitar line that sounds like a malfunctioning distress signal, then dissolves into a suffocating cloud of static and wailing voices.
Holding Hands with Jaime is a remarkable debut album. It ticks off plenty of familiar noise-rock boxes, but Girl Band massages them into a whole that feels authentically their own. Their fusion of dance club structures with abrasive rock textures finds a kind of fulfillment here and sets them apart from their peers in the art of sonic vandalism. Equal parts gut-wrenching and gut-busting, this is the tortured punk abomination that 2015 has been so desperately lacking.
02. Pears for Lunch
04. In Plastic
06. The Last Riddler
07. Texting an Alien
08. Fucking Butter
09. The Witch Doctor
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