For the past decade, Dublin’s Girl Band has been formulating, refining and adapting its very own brand of face-melting punk that is as palatable as it is lethal.
To call their international, cult-like fanbase loyal would be an understatement, so you can imagine the devastation in 2016 when the band abruptly canceled their tour to go on a creative hiatus. This was presumptively due to lead singer, Dara Kiely’s, ongoing struggle with mental health, a topic he had long been open about.
Fans theorized the worst… that was until “Shoulderblades” suddenly exploded onto the underground airwaves this past June. Could it be!? Without much media build-up, Girl Band had returned as quietly as it disappeared. It would seem that these young savants have spent time off reflecting, experimenting, practicing and doing lots of reading. The product is a forward-thinking, genre-bending, conceptual work of art in a forthcoming sophomore album, The Talkies, available September 27th via Rough Trade.
After receiving praise for the “ruthless originality” and “startling new ideas” (Clash Music) brought to life on Holding Hands With Jamie, bassist, Daniel Fox, returns to produce the album; however, all of the boys seem to consider sound in a more physical sense.
“None of us really play in a traditional sense but we’re all into how general frequencies fill out different spaces” guitarist Alan Duggan told RCM. They recorded different bits of The Talkies in different rooms of a house and found ways to mesh them back together, sometimes cutting between both sounds.
A traditional album layout might be the only thing traditional about The Talkies. Fox says that he was inspired by the sequencing of Marvin Gaye’s Whats Goin’ On, specifically, “how the tracks bleed into one another and how the end fades out but mimics the start” (RCM).
The band had retreated to Laois’ idyllic Ballintubbert House last November to record The Talkies. There’s unconventional instrumentation, hubcaps for percussion and Gaviscon bottles for plectrums among other unfamiliar noises. Lead guitarist, Alan Duggan, talks about using the basement as an “echo chamber,” which quickly became known to them as “the Wall of Souls,” adding that “in many ways, the idea behind the album was to make an audio representation of the house” (RCM).
In typical Girl Band fashion, both previously released tracks off of The Talkies, “Shoulderblades” and “Going Norway,” are sonically and lyrically dense, requiring many initial listens to sink in. It’s a lot of feelings coming at you at once, evoked by strategic displacement of sound. Highs and lows are emphasized by volume and dialing notes of synth bleeding in and out of focus. In the background, guitars are steadily strummed in the likes of a percussion bassline. The band admitted that the melody in “Going Norway” is actually an eight-year-old melody, but the overall feeling is evolved… and Shutter Island-y.
In the “Shoulderblades” video, unnerving flashes from red to blue lighting, and back, set the schizophrenic tone of it all.
Duality, a dominant visual and lyrical theme, is most overtly present in the chorus’ incessant reference to Ed Mordrake; a 19th-century urban legend known for his spooky affliction as the man with two faces. We can hear the razor-sharp focus in Kiely’s voice as he wails about Mordrake’s hat. We feel both unnerved and strangely afflicted by the ability to relate.
The set of this video is pretty much a white room and a strikingly androgynous Oona Doherty dressed in matching in-patient robes. Director, Bob Gallagher, praises her for the chaos that she was able to embody with erratic interpretive dance moves. The final 50 seconds of the ballad is so uncomfortably delicate and warm, it will make you long for your lover. Visually though, this is the part of the video where an overwhelmed Doherty smashes her head against the floor, drawing a pool of dark red blood. Not only are they giving a voice to a widely ignored, often vilified people with mental health issues, they are also dabbling in Ivy level psych concepts with surrealist overtones.
Sure, it’s an on-brand cross to bear for any kind of rocker but let’s not forget, Kiley is not editing to make anything look good. He is not blushingly recounting his therapy sessions where he upped his Lexapro dose to a cool 20, not quite… both Holding Hands With Jamie, and now, The Talkies, are full-on declarations of insanity. The band paints a much darker picture than social-media induced depression, claiming that before the big break in 2016, Kiely would “become overly happy, thought he was God and could control the weather. There was even a spell where he moved a tent into a garden and refused to leave” (NME).
In the same way that comedians joke on pressing social issues like sexism and racism to strike power away from the negative concepts themselves, Girl Band uses a lense of absurdity; screaming, howling, flailing, strumming, off-beat distortions, playful language to confront demons. “Funny things can be very intense. I don’t think we’re, you know, ‘hilarious’. But we’re funny” (RCM). Albeit an acquired sense of humor.
Drawing from a wide range of influences, experiences, capabilities, sounds, aesthetics in the creation of upcoming, The Talkies, it looks like it will be a huge year for Girl Band who continue to draw inspiration from a limitless mass of both tangible and intangible concepts.
Beyond that, The Talkies seems to embody everything we love about experimental young musicians that continue to question everything, keep one foot on the ground and make an effort to source inspiration from anywhere or anything. Kiely notes “I’m influenced by comedians like Stewart Lee and their subject matter and delivery. Punk for me is gathering all your influences from all sources and saying what you don’t like and loving what you do like and being quite militant and quite fascist with your art. With us, it all gets amalgamated” (RCM).
The Talkies was also written without pronouns “in a way to kind of find an abstract world to live in” after getting fixated on an old Buddah quote, “Nothing is to be clung to as I, me or mine” (Kiely to DIY). This kind of meditative mindfulness is not often revealed in puck music, and certainly nods to the thoughtful maturity, growth, attention to detail and thoughtfulness indicative of The Talkies as a whole.
Catch them on their upcoming US tour (listed below). You can also stay up-to-date by following their newly created Instagram.
02 – Chicago, Ill. @ Beat Kitchen
04 – Allston, Mass. @ Great Scott
05 – Philly, Pa. @ Boot and Saddle
06 – Washington, D.C. @ Songbyrd, DC
08 – Brooklyn, N.Y. @ Elsewhere
02 – Manchester, U.K. @ Academy 2
05 – London, U.K. @ Electric Ballroom
07 – Brussels, Belgium @ Botanique
10 – Utrecht, Netherlands @ Le Guess Who
12 – Berlin, Germany @ Lido
14 – Paris, France @ La Maroquinerie
22 – Dublin, Ireland @ Vicar Street