One day a child, experimenting with Spotify, will stumble upon Girl Band, anticipating a catchy pop hook and soothing female vocals, and will be met with Irish singer Dan Kiely screaming about Nutella over ripping, hardcore punk. Girl Band’s name is only one facet of the absurdity the noise rock band exhibits on their new album “Holding Hands With Jamie.”
For those unfamiliar with the genre, noise rock is sort of a marriage between avant-garde, punk rock and shoegaze. On paper this pairing seems ridiculous, and it is. This is what makes Girl Band great. The instability on this album keeps it fresh and exciting.
The all-male quartet gained interest from blogs and critics in 2012 with the EP “France 98.” The title track of the EP opens with what sounds like guitar strings being ripped apart by a cheese grater. Among the discordant guitars are fast drums, Kiely yelling about jealousy and a run time of 1:17. This album demonstrated somewhat typical punk tropes, but this was only the tip of the iceberg. In “France 98” and especially in their other EP “The Early Years,” Girl Band hinted at the sonic absurdity and genre variety that was coming in “Holding Hands With Jamie.”
Late in the album, on “F*cking Butter,” bass player Daniel Fox jumps from one-note, punk-style hammering to an entrancing death-metal riff while Kiely yells “Nutella” over and over. Everyone knows Nutella is the most punk spread, so it’s nice to see the hazelnut, chocolate treat get some recognition in the scene.
Like “F*cking Butter” all the best tracks are over five minutes long, which is sort of unusual in the punk scene. This gives the band’s absurd variety time to breath. On “Paul,” a lone bass riff is later joined by a single tom drum, then Kiely’s distorted vocals and builds to a massive, speed metal-style crescendo, then repeats this formula throughout with the addition of screeching, yelling and more distorted, rhythmic guitar. This aesthetic puts Girl Band in a similar realm as noise rock legends Swans. Like with Swans, listeners are put through a grueling assault of discordant noises, but if tolerated, the listener will find beauty and sometimes melody in the insanity. Like a complex book, music like this sometimes needs to be endured first, then it can be appreciated.
Girl Band does take a break from the chaos on “In Plastic” and “Texting an Alien,” which sound more like nightmarish Animal Collective tracks than hardcore punk. Many of their punk aesthetic is maintained in these comparatively welcoming tracks, and this ultimately shows their range. Accessible tracks like these are lighthouses to welcome newcomers to the genre. Noise rock is not for everyone, but Girl Band can be a good starting point for many intimidated by bands like Swans who have 30-minute-long stretches of French yelling over slide guitars.
You won’t find much substance in Kiely’s lyrics on this album. After all, this band is, at its core, punk rock. In punk, the vocals sometimes work as another jarring instrument and not a narrative tool. If you are looking for thematic cohesion or introspective reflection, you won’t find it here. Instead, turn to Kurt Vile’s “b’lieve i’m goin down…,” which also came out this weekend. Otherwise, Girl Band is really the antithesis of indie sweetheart Kurt Vile. Their music is chaotic, weird and exhausting. It’s amazing.
Collegian Music Critic Danny Bishop can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @dannydbishop.