This Girls Names article was written by Matty Ayre, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Natalie Whitehouse
With their last record, Girls Names reinvented themselves into a gloomy post-punk outfit that wrote expansive, brooding songs that were both mysterious and captivating. 2013’s ‘The New Life’ was a drastic departure from their initial sound, but the outcome was an immaculately produced record with songs that reveled in misery and melancholy. The Belfast based bands follow up, ‘Arms Around A Vision’, continues to lead Girls Names towards darker territory, but the record is stripped of the studio gloss that made their last effort sound so polished and listenable.
Back in March of this year, Girls Names released ‘Zero Triptych’, an epic 11 minute single that acted as a precursor to where the band might be heading. The single was utterly enthralling and featured a repetitive, motorik drumbeat against a dominant, driving bass and synth line. The big difference with the band’s new sound was that the guitars were much more jagged and frantic. With previous releases, the band seemed happy to steadily build an atmosphere with melodic guitar riffs and haunting synth lines. This time, Girls Names have opted for a punchier sound, with frenetic guitars that climax forcefully, during the songs four minute outro.
‘Arms Around A Vision’ ultimately features a tougher, more hostile sound. The chorus laden guitar tones have been replaced with gritty, jarring guitar chords that thrash around violently. ‘The New Life’ was heavily indebted to the post-punk masterpieces of the early 80’s and lead singer, Cathal Cully clearly owed much of his vocal delivery to iconic frontmen such as Ian McCulloch and Ian Curtis. With their latest record, the Girls Names frontman might similarly receive comparisons to the late punk legend Joe Strummer. ‘Arms Around A Vision’ is an altogether more aggressive record than its predecessor and it obviously draws on punk influences, whilst it still manages to retain the dark sombre themes that made ‘The New Life’ so captivating.
‘Reticence’ is an excellent opener and conveys the bands talent for intelligently arranging songs. The dynamic shift that transforms the song from its jagged opening minute, into a catchy and powerful track represents a step forward for the band in terms of their approach to song writing. The track also demonstrates Cully’s craft for lyrics. ‘Arms Around A Vision’ is an album full of intense, heavy lyrical content, and Cully frequently sounds like he is wrestling his inner demons. “So ugly, to the point of hatred, my skin crawling, yet I feel so alive.” Cully’s sheer poeticism is what makes the record so thrilling and affecting and it should deservedly be compared to classics such as Interpol’s ‘Turn On The Bright Lights.’
‘Desire Oscillations’ is another track in which Cully demonstrates his feel for lyrics. Musically, the track sounds frantic, with eerie synth lines layered alongside a clever picked guitar line and a melodic bass line. Yet it is the frontman’s distinctly personal lyrics which help to carry the songs forward, and the biggest criticism that could be leveled towards the singer, is that it is often difficult to completely make out exactly what he is singing.
‘Chrome Rose’ is a terrifically dark track that perfectly demonstrates Girls Names’ ability to write jolting post-punk pieces. ‘A Hunger Artist’ was recently released as a single, and opens with an over-driven guitar riff similar to that of ‘Pretty Vacant’ by the Sex Pistols. The song then explodes into life with motorik rhythms and a driving bassline urging the track forward.
Cully is typically imaginative with his atmospheric lyrics; “The complex fallacy of our own ecstasy, the grip of all your real lives crashing, climaxing.” The track clatters to an end, with a prolonged outro that pitches tormented guitar noises against 80’s inspired synth lines. Girls Names have mastered the art of writing moody, affecting songs that linger in the mind, long after they have finished playing.
Across ‘Arms Around A Visions’ twelve tracks, there are two intense instrumental songs which help to slow the pace of the album down. ‘Obsession’ and ‘Convalescence’ are perhaps odes to European influences and both feature atmospheric synth lines that help to offer a compelling alternative to the noisy, agitated guitars that accompany the rest of the albums songs.
Ultimately, Girls Names have saved their most mournful track until last, and ‘I Was You’ sounds as good as anything included on the Joy Division classic ‘Closer.’ ‘I Was You’ begins with a sombre bass riff, whilst chiming guitars and broken piano sounds are layered over the top, creating an ominous sense of looming dread. After nearly three minutes, the song twists and a different, gloomier bass line quickens the songs tempo. A sinister synth riff plays out repeatedly, as the album fades towards a murky ending. It’s possibly the most miserable and intense song that Girls Names have ever recorded but it closes the album perfectly and acts as a magnificent reminder of just how good Girls Names are.
‘Arms Around A Vision’ may not be an easy listen and it is certainly not as accessible as its predecessor. However, it represents a step in the right direction for the post-punk band and will no doubt provide a thrilling soundtrack to the eerie October evenings that await us.
‘Arms Around A Vision’ is out now via Tough Love Records.