Reviews_ Albums
Girls Names – The New Life
Tough Love/Slumberland

At the time of writing, there’s plenty to be unhappy about on this fair isle of ours, be it the ongoing economic shit-fest, the winter vomiting bug or loyalists rioting over ‘the fleg’. And, if you’re in the mood to wallow, here’s Belfast’s Girls Names with a collection of songs so moody and glum that you might well need a great big hug to cheer you up after you’ve listened to it.

This is no bad thing, of course. AU loves a good wallow, and for all its oppressive atmosphere, this is still recognisably pop music, albeit not of a kind with which yer average 2013 chart fan might be familiar. No, this is very much a 1980s, early Smiths/Cure/REM variety of pop. Following blink-and-you’ll-miss-it instrumental opener ‘Potrait’, ‘Pittura Infamante’ sets the tone, all rumbling bass, metronomic drums and reverb-heavy guitar and vocals, as frontman Cathal Cully intones “Come back to worship the skin/The mind distorts the purest thoughts the body has written”. It’s dark as hell, sure, but all the same this is music shot through with hooks, riffs and melodies.

It’s a template maintained throughout the album, and whether this is a good or a bad thing will depend on your point of view: it’s either a tad one-note or admirably consistent. AU is plumping firmly for the latter: the strength of vision displayed by Girls Names is something to be applauded, as is the decision – surely conscious – to place themselves definitively out of step with any currently prevailing musical fads. In any case, it’s difficult to argue with the songwriting. Much of The New Life is eerily beautiful, not least the haunting ‘Drawing Lines’ and the superb gloom-pop of ‘Hypnotic Regression’. ‘Occultation’, meanwhile, is as dark as its title might suggest, but is no less well-crafted for that, with a chiming riff and ghostly melody.

The quality rarely lets up – ‘Second Skin’, ‘The Olympia’ and ‘Projektion’ are three more slices of foreboding, high-tension gothic pop. But Girls Names save the best for last. The closing title track is absolutely stunning, the musical themes of the preceding nine songs writ large: a driving beat, a throbbing bass, Cully’s crepuscular delivery, and a circular, relentless riff which continues for some eight minutes before dissolving in shards of jagged guitar.

Stark, glacial and at odds with the modern world, all told The New Life is the perfect soundtrack for this winter of discontent. Erm, can we get that hug now? Neill Dougan

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