There’s been a fairly flagrant brouhaha brooding about moody throwback jangle for quite some time now. Captured Tracks are in no small part culpable, given the Brooklyn indie’s penchant for the creeping gloom-ridden types of DIIV and Craft Spells, and it consequently ought to come as nothing more than an only slight surprise that Belfast four-piece Girls Names were once snared by Mike Sniper & co. for the release of an eponymous EP a few years back. Now crooked beneath the banner of Tough Love Records along with the momentarily analogous likes of Virals and Weird Dreams, Cathal Cully et al. release their second full-length in twenty-four months, and in spite of the insinuations of regeneration in its title, The New Life is a darkened stalk down altogether shadier lanes.
Nonetheless a turn for rather more dusky pastures doesn’t necessarily a dimly illumined future make. Take Depeche Mode, for example: the sporadically ebullient synthpop of their patchy début Speak & Spell (an album which, incidentally, began with a grotesquely squelchy number entitled New Life) can hardly be deemed a prototypal blueprint for their every consequent and, generally speaking, more dismal endeavour in the very same way that Robert Smith turned the sonic contrast right down between the releases of Three Imaginary Boys, and Seventeen Seconds and indeed Faith, which in turn followed. And as much as I adore The Cure’s inaugural collection, it was their more gloomy reflections that ultimately mutated the morose Reading stalwarts into the cherished despondents they are today.
(As The New Life comes to mature about its midpoint, a track entitled A Second Skin which comes tattooed in henna tangles of squiggly Middle Eastern guitar work even comes to bear a distant semblance to Killing an Arab. Though for the most part, Girls Names are a distinctly singular proposition.)
The New Life, somewhat appositely I suppose, comes into being in a scintillating bath of wide-eyed twinkles, which splatters the tracklisting with the title Portrait – the track itself effortlessly tranquil (I can only surmise) as spawning straight into a birth pool. Though this instrumental interlude swiftly abates, to allow for Cully to cultivate his and their default MO via the ominous shank of Pittura Infamante. Translating to defaming portrait, it’s nothing of the sort as it’s equal parts stainless and shiny, and morbid and macabre with a similar sense of disconnect dislocating its verse from every chorus. Cathal’s vocals spooked, aloof and utterly unintelligible for the most part, there’s an almost Munchian quality to its ghoulish bottomlessness as it shimmers seductively in murky ripples, the listener strung along by its potent rhythmic undertow. There’s a similarly invigorating pace to Hypnotic Regression as well, as elastane guitars wrap their gangly chords around another exemplarily robust bass line.
Though separating these two kindred spirits – the ghostly blade severing the bloodied umbilical cord, if you will – is Drawing Lines, which is as though a cadaverous reconstitution of Connan Mockasin’s aqueous Forever Dolphin Love bred mischievously with another haunting groan fished out from Jules Verne’s deadened grey matter. It’s almost Shelley-esque in its epitomising of aural disfiguration, and is utterly revitalising for want of a more effusive term.
At times, there is a perhaps ever so gently excessively concerted effort to purvey this depiction of impregnable despair, and Occultation pretty well encapsulates this in five comparatively expendable minutes: its jarring rhythms correlating to the erratic thumping on a freshly sealed casket, it’s predictable as a squeal through The Horrors’ Strange House was wonderfully turbulent. Though the ghost train is slyly re-railed with the pared back thrums and trebly bursts of Notion. It’s at moments like these that Girls Names are at their most alarming, and more often than not when they chime as such they’re fully capable of commanding unperturbed attention. The slinky, sultry Projektions embosses further favourable contemplation on the contents of the cranium, though it’s the title track with which The New Life expires that leaves the lasting impression: exuding a skeletal vim, it witnesses Cully recompose the all-pervasive theme of quietus to fit in with a vivid feel of life, and the boundless optimism it can incur. It is, with that, the one which will have these particular names indelibly engraved on your mind for quite some time to come: Cathal Cully, Neil Brogan, Claire Miskimmin, Philip Quinn.
Released: February 18th, 2013 [Tough Love Records]