Girl Band’s ‘The Talkies’ is an immersive deep-dive into the soul, with each listen peeling away another layer and exposing something new – either about yourself or the band.
Stream: ‘The Talkies’ – Girl Band
First there’s only a repeating, hypnotic refrain. Then, the breathing starts: Frantic, panicked, reluctant, desperate gasps—each one more pained than the last. You feel the headphones digging into the side of your head, but don’t think to adjust them. The beat becomes the lungs, quickening and swirling, clutching desperately for any salvation. The track peaks in an anxiety-riddled crescendo of fear, alarm and distress. Suddenly, there’s silence.
Welcome to The Talkies, the newly-released LP by Irish cult heros Girl Band.
“It definitely draws from a certain amount of things; there’s dance elements, punk elements, and then there’s weird experimental freaky jazz elements, so it’s kind of hard to soundbite to be honest” says Daniel Fox, guitarist for Girl Band. “It’s vaguely based in a post-punk root but even that as a genre is a mismatched thing with parts taken from loads of other stuff—it’s a weird, experimental rock-record in a way.”
While Girl Band’s 2015 debut Holding Hands With Jamie was a thought-out approach to an atrophying mental state, The Talkies is more complex. The cerebral, no-clue-what-to-expect-next sound that has inspired a whole new generation of Irish rockers remains throughout the new LP, released Sep 27, 2019 via Rough Trade Records — but Fox believes the album to be a step forward in terms of its planning: “I think The Talkies is a better album because it’s more developed—but I’m probably just saying that because we’re about to put it out. I think there’s more in it, we developed musically and we really pushed ourselves,” he says. “All of the album ties together. If you notice on the record it self-references itself, like the same sounds come back.”
This repetition seems to hit on an unconscious level, but the impact is undeniable: “There’s this A-chord thing that comes back, there’s a couple of select sounds that show up over and over, so it’s more cohesive even though it’s very varied.”
The surprising root of this concept however? “Not so much in the way the parts come out, but in the way we sequence and self-reference, that comes from an idea Al [Duggan, bassist] had: He’s really into What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye” says Fox. “That album starts with a party conversation and it ends like that as well. We do that with the breathing thing on either side and all these kind of musical motifs that come out and come back a couple of times throughout the record. That’s an unexpected record—people wouldn’t associate us with Marvin Gaye too often.”
What results is an album that changes with the listener: Depending on your mood, your personal life experience and your current situation, different moments will jump out to you. Not unlike Holding Hands With Jamie then, this is an album that grows with you. “Theres a lot in there and with a record like that I hope that people can derive more from repeated listening and find loads of little things. It’s so personal when you really get into a record that you just attach your own meaning to it, so I wouldn’t want to tell people what to feel but I think there’s enough in there that people can come back to it.” Fox pauses for a moment before adding “There’s a lot of eating in it.”
Girl Band aren’t a band you throw on in the background at a party. They aren’t the kind of band you truly understand on the first date—or even the second. Rather, they’re a fully immersive deep-dive into the soul, with each listen peeling away another layer and exposing something new—either about yourself or the band.
The lyrics—which use an abstract approach that focuses more on the cadence and the language than any specific message—become whatever you want them to mean. Although the lyrics aren’t his, Fox speaks highly of lead singer Dara Kiely’s methods: “It’s more personal than having a specific message. Personal absurdity can be its own message. It’s not so on the nose.”
Tusks in Brag-age
Chomps Trunks the Age’
‘At Least Enough
At Least at All
Ball, Boil, Bull, Ball…
And Then Came In
With Medicine Ball
Ball, Ball, Ball, Ball’
Kiely isn’t the only band member with an interesting method however. The sound—which to listen to, seems so complex you can only begin to imagine the layers of overdubs—is in fact a simple setup: “There isn’t really that many layers: The way we set it up is myself, Adam [Faulkner] on drums and Al [Alan Duggan] on bass, we record all the basic tracks live so you get the live feel of the band from the drum kit and then we overdub our bass and guitar parts on top of that.” He continues: “But in terms of layers there’s not really that much but because of the pedals it sounds like there is more going on than there is—there’s not like layers of overdubs, there’s just like one guitar part, one bass part. When we play it live, it pretty much sounds like it does on the record.”
The hardest bit is knowing where to stamp. “Laggard”, a quick-paced head turner is an example of this this deceiving layered sound: “It’s kind of fast and it has loads of difficult little pedal changes and lots of quick little bits and the timings kind of weird. That one is one of those that has to be really tight otherwise it’s just a total train-wreck.” All this pedal-dancing creates a swirling, screaming track that changes more often than a teenager’s mood and twice as quick.
It feels emblematic of their entire ethos: It should be chaos, it should be jarring, and yet it simply works.
These musical deconstructions see the four-piece dissect the sounds of their favourite genres and place them back together in ways that please them: “We all like loads of different types of music so we’re always like ‘oh I heard this little thing they do in this’ and you can just take these little kernels of ideas and work it into what you do” Fox says. “I don’t know if it’s conscious in the way of ‘we are going to take apart different music’, but it’s where our ideas come from. Just from listening to music and in the end that’s what happens.”
Take album standout “Couch Combover”: Kielys’ undulating melody is hypnotic, creating an almost-lullaby-like rhythm that you can feel rocking you to rest through the speakers. Then hits the foreboding drone and squeal of the guitars. Sprinkle in a little bombastic drumming and an ever-increasing tempo and you get what should be a confusing mess—and yet there’s something binding it all together and making it not only listenable, but downright enjoyable. “That’s just how it comes out to be honest. It just works on its own internal logic. It’s not something we’d think of like ‘lets not be like x, y, or z’—we just kind of do us.”
This recipe repeats throughout the record, despite no two songs ever sounding the same—or staying in one groove for very long.
The Talkies is an album which will be completely different to you in a month, six months and especially a year. But it will still be as amazing. Every listen offers some new, almost tangible moment that you blew by earlier—probably because you were fixated on a different moment you’d just discovered. Its enigmatic nature is part of its charm and its longevity. It is, in short, a Polaroid photograph you’ll gladly watch develop forever.
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? © Richard Gilligan
an album by Girl Band