A music blog from Ireland.
Girl Band – four males – released a new EP last month. Not being a football fan, I don’t know if the title France 98 relates to triumphant euphoria or crushing defeat. The certainly touch upon both emotions with this record: it’s good enough to make other guitar bands listen and weep.
Opening track You’re A Dog was first released as a teaser single in October and at once caused consternation – I was presumptious and reckoned the best track on the EP was sewn up in this one number. The pace and tone set by one singular, thrilling guitar, with drums and bass taking their lead from the rhythm set down, is both boisterous and hypnotic, Dara Kiely’s vocal sounding like it’s there almost as an afterthought. It takes about one minute for the listener’s anticipation to build to quivering readiness, and in the space of another, the rhapsody is lobbed full-tilt to fall into eager ears as open and waiting as a catcher’s mitt. But there was more to come. Busy At Maths is shorter, a shard of delayed emotion shoved into a small space in which guitar wrestles with the vocals, while That Snake Conor Cusack is what I’d stretch to calling the low point, although it’s not bad, just a little confused in comparison to its neighbours – it comes across as a decent 90s band trying to tone themselves down for wider appeal and losing themselves along the way. France 98 is the shortest and most furious barrage of lo fi sound in effect on the EP and perhaps the most indicative of this record as a whole, garnering the honor of title track for kicking off in such a way. Handswaps is the closer and a strange, beautiful creation that brings to mind slow gothic rock laments. But there’s no doubt for me that Second One is the undisputed champion on the EP and I would have made it the closer because it dovetails flush to You’re A Dog. It’s led by a gorgeously repellent snare that does its best to hold back the rest of the instruments, only giving way when the barrage of steel becomes too much for restraint. The lyrics are sparse but lengthened and here is the point that Dara’s vocal really comes into its own drawling best, harsh at times and the song sounding sweeter for it. The bass thunders and growls in complaint, I delight in the guitar’s squeal and fuss, and ride out the heady maelstrom to its sublime end.
Production and style play huge roles in this release, making it very difficult for me to efficiently pin down technical aspects of something I recognise but struggle to describe, knowing absolutely nothing about gear and recording. Wanting to do better than merely correlating the songs with notable pioneers, I tried checking out other reviews and found little to go on bar some lazy descriptions of ‘neo-grunge’ and the like – this EP is much more exciting than it’s given credit for. It’s very clear that Girl Band didn’t just decide to write some songs after listening to the greats of the late Seventies and Eighties but rather, were compelled and inspired to recreate and refine a sound that should be difficult to carry off competently today. The buzzy, heavy edges and effects of music originating in the first post-punk era were the result of making the best of a bad lot of cheap recording equipment that skint bands could get their hands on at the time. Whereas post-punk made now sounds less of the Girl Band ilk as most take a leaf from the originals’ instrumental contortionist methods (read: a hundred knock-off Gang of Fours) but the genre itself seems to prohibit modern simplicity as we know it; the sound quality afforded by our cheap technology is superior in the way that supermarket lighting is stark and brash, showing up every spot and flaw with unnerving clarity. You need someone in the know to achieve such sympathetic effects but I can’t find any details of the studio or engineering involved in realising the creative aim of the France 98 EP. Whoever you are, I applaud you (*edit* – recorded and produced by the band themselves in Bow Lane Studios). The fact I looked around speaks volumes to me. It’s not often that music turns my head away from what the lyricist is trying to say, or what time signature the drummer’s using, and down strange dark paths to wonder ‘did they fuck with the amp to make the bass crackle like that?’ and ‘how do the drums sound so full and yet, so far?’ and ultimately, to ‘I really gotta hear these guys live again…soon’. Seems February is the earliest that will be, but it can’t come soon enough.