As I watch four young well-dressed men make harrowing noises on a darkened stage with a velvet curtained background, Jameson in hand, I’m wondering what the fuck is wrong with me. This. This evil noise that Girl Band tap into, the metallic clash of the guitars, the headachy drums, the anguished screaming vocals. If I’m really honest with myself, being in a room where people are making this kind of sick music is my favourite thing about being alive. It’s fucked up that of all the things that you can experience in this world, this is the one for me.
It’s not even about camaraderie. Of course I’ve had those beautiful Glastonbury, singalong, we-are-all-one-big-happy-human-family moments and I cherish them. This is different though. Watching Girl Band tonight, or Pissed Jeans earlier in the year, or Yes I’m Leaving in Sydney, or Nine Inch Nails last year, or Shellac anytime at all, I guess it’s what you would call catharsis. I don’t really care if anyone else is in the room or not, let alone anyone I know. Happy is not quite the word. It is in these moments where I feel the most complete, the most understood. Is this what my soul sounds like? Why?!
Girl Band were brilliant. Elsewhere is a big of a strange venue (too glitzy), and Bushwick is not my favourite neighbourhood (too far and trendy), but Girl Band were brilliant. They’ve just released their new record The Talkies which if anything is more sparse and brutal then their 2015 record Holding Hands with Jamie. Many of the songs are short, sharp, almost like a one-liner joke. If you were watching the show with the sound off you would never guess what they sound like. They are four presentable guys, guitar/bass/drums/vocals, and they barely move at all during the performance. There is literally no stage presence or energy to speak of.
If this sounds like a criticism it’s not. If there’s one thing that ties together so many of the bands I love of their ilk it’s this refusal to cultivate an image, or put on a performance. Don’t get me wrong – I do love theatrical bands like The Knife or Goat or even Amyl and the Sniffers, but there’s something particularly chilling about a bunch of guys who look like bank tellers calmly making music that twists your stomach inside out.
Frontman Dara Kiely is the guy you had a crush on in High School; blond and angelic of face, but he’s been through some shit. I don’t say that flippantly – Kiely has had well documented mental health struggles and has at times spoken openly about them in interviews. His ability to channel his experiences into the music is part of what makes it so powerful. Alan Duggan is one of my favourite guitarists in the world right now. More than any other band tonight they remind me of Nine Inch Nails and that is due to the literally industrial sounds that Duggan makes with his guitar and large collection of pedals. He and bassist Daniel Fox, and drummer Adam Faulkner, avoid the conventional rock band format, there’s no real verse/chorus/verse, and in this way they are almost closer to dance music. Aphex Twin comes to mind. Also, another one of my loves, Suuns.
I miss long-form music journalism. I would love to read a really well researched and in-depth piece about Girl Band, their influences, their processes, where they fit in on the musical timeline, and how the fuck four clean cut dudes from Dublin came to make some of my favourite sounds on the planet. The Talkies is highly deep-divable. The song ‘Aibohphobia’ is written entirely in palindromes, and the song’s name refers to a fear of palindromes. For real! The brutal ‘Shoulderblades’ references Edward Mordake, an urban legend of a figure who was said to have two faces, an extra one on the back of his head. Ahhhh! See more here.
The crowd at Elsewhere doesn’t quite know how to respond to Girl Band; there are a few failed attempts at crowd surfing but the music is not suited to that. Seeing them live is a reminder of how brooding, dark and moody their music is, and only occasionally does it bubble over into moshable punk riffs. Funnily enough the most danceable moment is ‘Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage’, their 2015 cover of a dance track (by Blawan) that has one line in it.
If you’re like me, this is your idea of a straight-up dance floor banger.