The Best Albums of 2015, #5

band015. Girl Band, Holding Hands With Jamie (Rough Trade)

I can be an old fogey sometimes, especially when it comes to indie rock. There’s nothing in music that makes me sadder than a contemporary indie rock band that has no idea how to rock. 25 years ago indie rock was exciting, daring, creative, and at times obnoxiously loud. Today, all the hotly-tipped bands have about as much ferocity as the Association. I remember reading about Canadian band Ought and their apparent “hardcore” sound, but all I hear is something, fey, pretentious, and lifeless. Part of it is the fault of the current generation of kids who look to more watered-bands for influences, which in turn dilutes that rock sound more and more. But it’s also the fault of the so-called indie “tastemakers”, who care so little about rock music that they can’t be bothered to name more than a handful of indie rock albums on their year-end lists. Sorry, the preciousness of Kurt Vile won’t fly. Nah, it’s all about horrible, horrible acoustic bands from Brooklyn, which is ground zero for annoying millennial hipsters. Indie rock desperately needed a shot in the arm, and as soon as I heard the debut album by Irish foursome Girl Band, I knew immediately I was hearing something special. The touchstones are unmistakable to anyone with a passing knowledge of the history of experimental rock music. The repetition and steady, metronomic pace Can. The dry wit and complete disregard of rock convention by The Fall. The cathartic and euphoric atonality of Big Black. But as with any great rock band, it’s not about who you sound like but how you sound like it, and the crazed lo-fi-cacophony you hear on this roaring, breathless 38-minute record, for all its reference points, is singular. The way the album veers between savage energy blasts and more deliberately paced displays of power is extraordinary. Opener “Umbongo” throws the gauntlet down immediately, the band’s most difficult, discordant song and a brash challenge to the listener: if you want to endure this, be ready for an assault. Girl Band are always in control, even at their most raucous, but Holding Hands With Jamie excels when the focus is more on tension than release. “Pears for Lunch” carries on with a crisp motorik beat as gales of guitar noise build, recede, and build again to an incredible crescendo as Dara Kiely hollers about watching Top Gear with his trousers down. “Fucking Butter” is an inspired art-rock piece that stretches close to eight minutes, mechanical screeches and beats underscoring Kiely’s surreal, Pavement-esque wordplay (“Nutella, no tell her, Nutella”) punctuated by bursts of visceral power that rival modern noise kings KEN Mode. The manic epic “Paul” is a masterstroke. All the aforementioned influences coalesce perfectly: snark, noise, and a wickedly rigid groove propel the track to the point where you want the thing to go four, five times longer than its seven-minute length. At the 2:42 mark, this incendiary quartet strikes a spark, flint and steel yielding a liberating explosion that wakes the current state of indie guitar noise from its stupor, reminding one and all just how exciting it can be. It’d be silly to declare Girl Band “the future of indie rock”, but personally I really, really hope so. (Spotify) (YouTube)

This piece incorporates portions of my original album review for Spin magazine.