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Review: Girl Band Abrade and Explode on First Full-Length ‘Holding Hands With Jamie’

SPIN Rating: 8 of 10
Release Date: September 25, 2015
Label: Rough Trade

After signing with Rough Trade, Dublin foursome Girl Band could have coasted complacently on their comparatively inoffensive 2012 debut, France 98, but instead, to their credit, they took the opportunity to create their most audacious and aggressive music yet, and have emerged with a riskier, more abrasive, and phenomenal rock record. All it took was the willingness to embrace the chaos within their sound and take things even further.

The touchstones in Holding Hands With Jamie are unmistakable to anyone with a passing knowledge of the history of experimental rock music. The repetition and steady, metronomic pace of German legends 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. That includes an 80-second blast of punk rock in the form of “The Last Riddler,” and the tribal, manic, razor-sharp precise “The Witch Dr.” later on.

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, thanks in huge part to the disciplined drumming of Adam Faulkner. “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. “F–king Butter” is an inspired art-rock piece that stretches close to eight minutes, mechanical screeches and beats underscoring Kiely’s surreal wordplay (“Nutella, no tell her, Nutella”) punctuated by bursts of visceral power that rival modern noise kings KEN Mode. The death-disco edge of the best of the material collected this spring on the band’s Early Years EP is mostly absent here, but it’s surprisingly unmissed here amidst the squall.

The extraordinary “Paul” is not only the record’s centerpiece, but Girl Band’s early masterpiece. 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.