“This band saved my sanity” reads one comment left on a Girl Band youtube video, and it’s not hard to see how the Dublin based group could. Girl Band’s Holding Hands With Jamie isn’t as much an album as it is a screeching treatise on life itself, an all-out sonic assault that, in both its quiet and furious moments, offers up a kind of brutal catharsis. It’s proof that an album doesn’t have to be composed of beardy singer-songwriter stuff in order to change someone’s life; brutal and surreal masterworks like this have that power too.
Proceedings are kicked off by Umbungo, the auditory equivalent of a ruin built on a ruin. The track layers grating guitar work with a sudden, tragic melody line, and the switch from one t’other, around the two minute thirty mark, is as jarring as it is heartbreaking. As with the rest of the album, the tonal changes are so sharp you could cut your fingers on them, but they aren’t just a case of the band showing off. This isn’t a trick they’ve learnt; it’s the key to their brutal philosophies, and by battering the audience into sonic submission Girl Band earn themselves the space to build some deeply elegiac moments.
It’s a strategy they similarly employ on In Plastic and Texting An Alien, tracks that balance horrendous violence with hard won emotion. The latter in particular is a striking example of Girl Band’s power, as the radiating melody lines transform from being beautiful and calm to heightened and desperate, simply through repetition. It’s pared down; it’s intelligent; and it is utterly unlike anything else you’ve heard this year.
Indeed, repetition is key, and Girl Band use their melodies like threats. They frequently repeat snatches of the songs over and over, building up a kind of hypnotic brutality, as though they are a piece of clockwork that has gotten itself stuck: a toy monkey padding about in ever decreasing circles. This groove based repetition comes from their love of dance music – they’ve covered The Chemical Brothers and Blawan, mentioned LCD Soundsystem in interviews – and the interplay between the shimmering surface of disco and their own gritty, rust flecked sound is a stroke of very significant genius.
Equally important to the band’s signature sound are the vocals and lyrics of Dara Kiely, once the band’s drummer, now its magnetic frontman. He sing-speaks as often as he croons or screams, and there is often a fascinating distance between his detached vocals and the furious guitar work going on around him. A song like Fucking Butter or the brilliant Paul has him falling in and out of line with the melody, his voice engaged, then disinterested, then engaged again.
Holding Hands With Jamie was constructed in the shadow of great psychological pain, but despite the subject matter of a song like The Great Riddler, or the frenzied riffs of The Witch Dr, the record is ultimately a strikingly uplifting experience. Indeed, when it’s at its most brutal: that’s when it’s at its most inspired. It’s traumatizing, but it’s transcendental; it’s bludgeoning but it’s beautiful. This is the kind of album you can build your entire life around; an album to inspire, one with the potential to fill your days and soundtrack your nights. It is, in short, a masterpiece.