Review: Holding Hands with Jamie – Girl Band

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This piece was originally published on the 28th of September 2015 by The 405. This is actually the final piece I wrote for The 405, and, given that this review is more or less the equivalent of a baffled shrug, it wasn’t the best of farewells. That wasn’t the plan, though; the plan was to take some time off to focus on the final year of my undergraduate degree and then return around Christmas. I never did come back, though, because I really needed a break from words over the winter break. Then, during the final stretch of work on my dissertation, I came down with a gastrointestinal illness that’s still affecting me to some degree. I spent most of the summer of 2016 depressed, and I wasn’t really in any mental state to write. I tried, though: I wrote about 4,000 words about why I had a terrible time at Star Wars Celebration in London, but never finished the piece because I thought it was woefully inadequate (the illness, of course, dented my already lacking confidence); I also planned to write about Marvel Studios’ unique approach to adaptation and why My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless is a perfect sounding album, but I barely started those pieces for the same reason. Then, by the time my health started to improve, I was getting ready to embark on a master’s degree, which left barely any time to write for myself. In fact, I didn’t get around to writing criticism again until earlier this year, which is mad, really.

“You just shit in my neighbour’s garden!”

I don’t know what this lyric means. It works as a bold opening gambit to ‘Baloo’, and obviously makes sense on a surface level, but I don’t know what it actually means. And, frankly, I don’t know what any of it means: the palpable distress; the erratic clamour of its movement; the playful, largely incomprehensible yapping of frontman Dara Kiely. Everything about Girl Band’s debut album, Holding Hands with Jamie, is just kind of baffling to me – even after two weeks spent in its serrated embrace. Perhaps I could conceal this by suffocating some tracks with bombastic adjectives – idiosyncratic! rambunctious! delirious! – that offer no indication as to how they really feel on a gut level. I could even provide some context by expanding on the Dubliners’ history and rattling off a few tenuous stylistic forbearers such as The Fall, The Birthday Party, and Big Black. But I’m not sure whether such exercises would do any good, as they’d only suggest an authority over this album that I do not possess.

See, more than ever, Girl Band seem content to luxuriate in their own fucked up internal logic. Where their early calling cards ‘Lawman’ and Blawan cover ‘Why They Hide Their Bodies Under my Garage’ were imbued with an inexorable forward momentum and a precision reminiscent of techno, the majority of Holding Hands with Jamie is looser, almost freeform in its disposition. The band still makes a glorious racket, of course they do, but, with the exception of singles Paul’ and ‘Pears for Lunch’, they experiment with structures that are far more oblique in terms of movement and genre signifiers. Which is not to say that they meander, rather that the songs are more instinctual and unpredictable, as if they’re being developed on the fly. The result is often confounding, with Girl Band rarely giving much of an indication as to the specificities of what they’re really doing behind their imposing wall of noise. And while I’m sure this is all intentional, predicated on complex designs and virtuoso musicianship, Holding Hands with Jamie still feels like a prolonged, spontaneous in-joke, moving with a rhythm that leaves outsiders struggling to keep up.

However, as nightmarish as this should be for someone expected to make sense of Holding Hands with Jamie, I’m actually finding a lot to appreciate in its elusiveness. When cultural discourse is so concerned with definitively ‘solving’ one work of art before swiftly moving onto the next, here’s an album that includes a guy repeatedly screaming “Nutella!” for twenty seconds in a song called ‘Fucking Butter’. Why does he scream “Nutella!” in ‘Fucking Butter’? The reason doesn’t reveal itself readily, but it’s possible to enjoy the mystery for its own sake – especially when Girl Band commit to their myriad ideas so emphatically. Indeed, while Holding Hands with Jamie‘s meaning may not be so easily decipherable, it’s clear from the intensity with which Girl Band play that their expression is deliberate, that they’re ripping something out of themselves and addressing something primal that they may not have been able to address otherwise. So, for all the band’s stylistic digressions, Holding Hands with Jamie is a record instilled with all the unmistakable urgency and vitality of the best débuts, that resounds with a vehemence that few bands could muster and leaves the listener – for better or worse – utterly dumbfounded.

And it’s rare to come across an album that allows you only the faintest impression of its workings while simultaneously impacting you in a profound way. It’s enough to make you hold your hands up and embrace that it’s okay – thrilling, even – to have no fucking idea what you’re hearing, and that you don’t have to make complete sense out of everything to bask in the mere experience of listening to something so loud and audacious. So, no, I don’t know what Holding Hands with Jamie means, but I adore it all the same. And while that argument may seem to represent a shirking of my responsibilities as a critic, I’m more than content to defer to the music if it means you’ll actually listen to Girl Band.

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