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Released on Tough Love (UK) and Slumberland (US). Belfast-based four-piece Girls Names are a singular proposition, both geographically and psychically removed from their contemporaries at home and abroad. Released on 18th February, their second album The New Life is the sound of a band on the fringes striving to forge their own path, purposefully out of step - and time - with their surroundings. Weighed heavy with the grey landscapes of their hometown, The New Life is isolation laid bare, shot through with an undeterred sense of purpose and individuality.Having released a series of singles and EPs on various independent labels, Girls Names made their first significant impression on the wider world in 2011 with their debut album, Dead To Me, earning plaudits from the likes of Pitchfork, NME and Loud & Quiet amongst a host of others. And yet, despite all the praise heaped on it, as soon as that record was released Girls Names were already moving into a different headspace. The band s performance at this year Primavera festival provided them with their first real opportunity to showcase the songs that were to comprise The New Life. The sunshine backdrop of the Spanish coastline offered a somewhat incongruous setting to the eerie dissonance of the new material, a kind of trial by fire metamorphosis rapturously received. Following a tour of Europe, the band returned home to record the album over a series of months. Having been produced by singer and songwriter, Cathal Cully, they ve managed to capture that sense of otherness the performances at Primavera hinted at. The expansion to a four piece means the garage-clatter of the spritely pop songs of their debut have been replaced by a deeper, shadowy exercise in catharsis, driven by repetition, psychedelia and Dionysian crisis. And the record was born of a weighty concept too, as Cully explains: The New Life is not an over night change for Girls Names - just over two years in fact. Dead to Me literally was dead to us by the time it was committed to wax. But it's a learning curve. We started moving on as artists the moment we finished that recording session, maybe even before. Not to dwell on the past, The New Life is what happens when you reset everything back to zero and start again, but try to perfect. It starts back at zero the minute the needle hits the groove but we're also starting back from zero once the needle lifts at the end of the record. Ad infinitum. The New Life is what follows now. The title track, and the first single to be taken from the album, is an ideal entry point. Just shy of 8 minutes long, it rotates around a hypnotic bass line, and in Cully s evocation of renaissance, offers a perfect metaphor for the album as a whole. New single Hypnotic Regression - available to stream today - reflects another side to the record. The reverb-heavy guitars and compelling melody are immediately memorable, but there are signs of experimentation, too; the white squall of the lead break; the uneasiness in the vocal echoes that furnish the verses. As such, The New Life, stands as a brave statement; the mark of the band untying themselves from the past and easing forth into the unknown.
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.
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