There’s a phrase I’ve noticed constantly rearing its head this last year: “This is what we need at the moment. A bit of positivity”. I firmly disagree with that. After a while, trying to force things to be uplifting and scraping what good we can, just gets tiring and disheartening.
Maybe what we really need is something that accurately and cathartically captures the mood of the moment: Something cold and distant, lost and struggling to scrape a little hope. Maybe what we all need is something like On All Fours, the new album by London four-piece Goat Girl.
Now, I know there is an inherent hypocrisy to criticising others for declaring one thing is what we need while declaring what we need is the opposite so if it’s not clear, when I say “we”, I really mean “me” and I hope you can understand and respect this. I just wanted to get that out of the way.
Their sophomore effort sounds like a sonic evolution in every possible way on their self-titled debut as their palette expands keeping those jagged Talking Heads guitar lines but adding in a collection of synth sounds, some harsh Throbbing Gristle-styled, some hazy ‘Nights Out’-era Metronomy styled, some that frankly defy an easy reference point. All without losing the biting humour they have become known for.
What is fascinating is how not only their sound has advanced but their songwriting has become much looser. Instead of going for 19 tracks in 40 minutes like their debut, they have 13 tracks given time to breathe, seldom running under three and a half minutes a track, allowing for more invested instrumentals and it shows with a frankly stunning piece of production.
Reuniting the group with Dan Carey was a very smart move as Carey seems to fully understand the groups sensibilities and had produced a sonic delight where the drums have just the right amount of thud, the guitars rattle, the synths hum but the Warpaint-esque close harmonies still ring out clearly above it all.
Opening track ‘Pest’ sets the tone thoroughly. Inspired by the phrase ‘Beast from the East’, it imagines the pest from the west, a near-mythical figure who seems to represent much of the world’s failings condensed into one easy, propulsive, danceable package. It’s a firm mission statement, that perhaps there isn’t much hope to be found at the moment but that doesn’t mean we can’t dance through it.
This mood is followed through by album highlights ‘Sad Cowboy’, ‘PTS Tea’, ‘Jazz (In The Supermarket)’ & ‘Where Do We Go From From Here’, a series of tracks that display verbal wickedness and an intense melancholy without ever relying too heavily on mawkish or overwrought sentiment.
Goat Girl are fascinating as a band that seem to come off better on recording than live. Their live energy can be too easily misunderstood as apathetic or aloof where on tracks like ‘Bang’, it becomes clear that this is just part of the performance, that it is part of the character of the album. To see tracks like this delivered with the giddy enthusiasm of a stadium rock act would seem out of place and probably excessively jarring.
The album has a strong blend that generates the feeling of an intentional album structure instead of just a collection of singles, jumping between dance punk to trip hop and beyond with a comparative ease and grace that suggests a group who are close to exploding with ideas. It is a treat to see their minds whirring as even on weaker tracks on the album such as the somewhat forgettable ‘Badibaba’, there is enough invention to at least make it appreciatable on a sonic level even if it doesn’t on an emotional one.
At its worst, the album is never unpleasant but it does occasionally sound like a band attempting to evolve while struggling to define their direction. And some thoughtful lyrical touches occassionaly get a little lost in the mix – lead singer Lottie Cream has a delightful tone to her voice, but sometimes you wish the venom of the lyrics could come through a tad clearer.
Ultimately the art of 2020 and 2021 is, perhaps more than ever, impossible to separate from the context of the years they were produced in. This is not an album that ignores the inherent darkness of the times or attempts to try and distract from it and it’s worth applauding them for embracing this in a way that is ultimately enjoyable.
As we are here at the start of the year, it is hard to know how feelings will be about this at the end of the year but if nothing else, I am certain that this album will get at least another play through after reviewing. Frankly, at the moment, that’s something.