Belfast band reinvents its sound and comes up smelling of roses.
Mike Haydock 2013
The New Life is an apt title for the second album by Girls Names.
This Belfast band – formerly a trio, now expanded to a four-piece – won critical plaudits for their 2011 debut, Dead to Me, which offered a brooding take on Best Coast-style surfer-rock. It was bruised, but also full of pop hooks.
However, Dead to Me was dead to Girls Names as soon as they’d recorded it. They wanted to start again and try something new. And this time round, the brooding takes centre stage.
Post-punk riffs lumber out of the darkness, and reverb-soaked vocals echo through the mix. Pop hooks are replaced with bass-driven, hypnotic melodies.
All of this gives The New Life a ghostly, macabre air. It nods to The Birthday Party, Joy Division and Bauhaus, while also borrowing a dollop of Jesus and Mary Chain dreaminess. In terms of more recent comparisons, Girls Names now occupy a similar space to The Horrors.
It would be disingenuous to describe this as an easy-going listen. Cathal Cully’s voice floats in the background; it doesn’t stride forward to guide or reassure. The propulsive rhythms are solemn.
But Girls Names aren’t all doom and gloom, and they inject touches of levity into proceedings – the shimmering intro, Portrait; the lead guitar solos on Pittura Infamante and Hypnotic Regression; the swirling, sparkling wooziness of Occultation; the mystical Eastern riff on The Olympia.
So what we end up with is a complex, restless beast of an album that shuffles and grooves to a 1980s beat but also offers glimmers of hope in the present day.
Any idiot can crib from the past, stealing ideas from their heroes in an attempt to sound retro and cool. But Girls Names borrow affectionately and carefully, pouring a pile of their own ideas into the pot.
The result is a stylish, intelligent record that does exactly what it set out to do: Girls Names have reinvented their sound and come up smelling of roses. A new life, yes – and a bright future too.