If you’ve been keeping up with the reviews for The New Life by Girls Names, much has been said about the metamorphosis of the Belfast indie rockers–how a young band ignored much of the accolades garnered from institutions like Pitchfork and NME on their debut LP, and produced a follow-up that is barely recognisable as its cousin. But then the music world seems to gorge on the next possible trend and promulgate embellished articles on why a newish act, who can play a few catchy chords, are the next best thing. In spite of the previous sentence, I was also smitten with their instantaneously appealing, no-frills post-punk vignettes. But as any artist learning their craft, Girls Names had already divorced from their lo-fi, surf rock-tinged debut, appropriately titled, Dead To Me. Eight months have passed since the envelope filled with ten songs clocking in at three minutes or under was sealed. By the time Dead To Me hit the masses, the trio had transformed into a quartet and emerged from the cocoon with a sound that could only belong to their name. The most impressive is the progress of their musicianship. Dead To Me felt like the product of students randomly experimenting, but on The New Life, every intonation of the guitar feels like the result of a conscious decision.
It’s easy to become mere imitators of your progenitors, but the music of Girls Names is a result of subconscious affinity for early British post-punk intertwined with sincere reflection of their landscape. Stylistically, The New Life recalls the works of Sad Lovers & Giants, The Chameleons, and Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, to name a few; in spirit, probably closest to Ian Curtis-inundated Joy Division. Cool not by choice, but in need of warmth to unearth the empathy in Cathal Cully’s ghostly voice–like Cesare silently calling out from Dr Caligari’s cabinet. Belfast may be steadily dissociating from its violent period known as “The Troubles,” but the scars are fresh enough to be a place of despair. And no amount of alcohol and raucous music is going to cure the permeating desolation. But Girls Names does not dwell on the dourness, but conquers and transforms it into a solace–a sound resulting from some hallucinatory fever like a Max Ernst painting, realizing the shadowy dimension parallel to this existence.
I can see how someone could dismiss The New Life as a humdrum record, but so many ingenious aural textures and time combinations caress my ear canals for me to agree with them. If you don’t have the patience for macabre-tinged post rock with murky vocals, you could easily miss the spacey exhilaration of “The Occultation” that borders on a triumphant conclusion. Or how one could stitch a story with the names of the tracks: I have in mind to paint a “Portrait,” but it’s “Pittura infamante” (Italian for “defaming portrait”). And as I am “Drawing Lines,” I find myself in a “Hypnotic Regression” of an “Occultation,” where I am trying to shed the “Second Skin,” but I get the “Notion” I am “The Olympia” (like to refer to Manet’s 1863 painting). But it was all just a “Projektion” to bring me to “The New Life.” Maybe that’s a farcical illation, but the point is that an album that can induce such a hyper-psychoactivity is not monotonous.
Dead To Me paired nicely with cheap cans of beer as you wandered aimlessly in ennui, while The New Life yearns a darkly-lit corner with a bottle of whiskey. That is not to say, The New Life demands a solitary pondering indefinitely; you’ll eventually want to emerge from the darkness, with a profound enlightenment–sharing the vistas with the bleak charm of the Northern Irish and propelling toward an amorphous future with a new seed of hope. If that just sounds too grandiose, then you may just be content with The New Life as the latest addition to the goth night program at your local dive bar.