Album Review: Girl Friday – Androgynous Mary

[Hardly Art; 2020]

Gracing the cover art of Girl Friday‘s debut album Androgynous Mary is an ambiguous image. Doused in dreamy blue hues, an elderly individual, androgynous, sits upon a rock peering back at us, seemingly just as intrigued by us as we are of them. Though a daunting image, this photo speaks a resounding language of both empowerment and resonance – a language that is translated through the sheer, unadulterated punk power of Girl Friday. Taking inspiration from a seemingly gender-neutral mural of the Virgin Mary that they once spotted, the individual depicted is Androgynous Mary, and she knows the pains of those standing within the margins and on the sidelines; she is the universal pain so beautifully detailed through the music of this bright young band of raging rockers.

“Raging” will rear its head as an overwrought descriptor concerning this quartet, and while it mostly fits, this debut’s musical landscape happens to cover an emotional vastness that far surpasses simply anger. There’s heartbreak, melancholy, humor, hopefulness, and even victory—so much more than rage. No matter the emotion, Androgynous Mary finds the band united on the same front, firing on all cylinders through its straightforward punk agenda and nuanced sentimentality. 

Featuring four fiery leads—yes, this is a genuinely collective effort— Girl Friday are comprised of bassist Libby Hsieh, Virginia Pettis on drums, and Vera Ellen and Sierra Scott on guitar. A traditional band set up, yes, but Girl Friday wield their uniquely powerful parts as a commandeering whole, yielding a vicious punk-adjacent sound with pain leeching on its core. Though tragedy may loom like a black cloud, there’s a palpable sense throughout this record that they can overcome it all—together, of course.

It’s easy to feel alienated in this day and age, especially within the context that is the shit show of the United States, but Girl Friday have each other, and it is clear that no oppressive policy, man, or system will disband what this four shares. From the opening track “This is Not The Indie Rock I Signed Up For”, with lines like, “They pull at my hair and tell me what I’m like / I guess I’m losing / This is choosing to be free,” their sickness with their marginalization in society-at-large is easily gleaned. Darkness is tangible from the get-go, and with the track falling apart, morphing into cacophonous noise, hope seems slight. And yet, Girl Friday’s sense of camaraderie manages to still shine a light into the darkness with gorgeous vocal harmonies and the track’s hopeful parting words: “But I’m so happy you’re here / I’m so happy you’re with me.” This is totally the indie rock I signed up for, and what a breath of fresh air it is considering the world’s current state of affairs. 

While the opening song is hopeful at heart, the album takes listeners further down a deceptively dark path. With “Eaten Thing”, the band unleashes a growling post-punk burner filled with images of body horror (“I’m ripped open / Dripping on your toes / Covered by my insides…”) and insanity to no end (“It’s all the same, some cheap trick / How do you quit? How do you win?”). As feverish vocal scowls, a croaking bassline, and a blistering guitar groove coalesce for a menacing display, you begin to grasp the weight of the world that this group is somehow managing to shoulder. Nobody asked Girl Friday to do such a thing, but they’ve got punk rock prowess to undertake such a task and channel what it means to be sick and tired.

The same sentiment carries over into the next cut, “Public Bodies”, where Girl Friday probe further into what it feels like to be under the thumb of the oppressor, disguised as normalcy, with no one to care: “When I say I’m in pain, they don’t believe it.” Simultaneously, “Public Bodies” explores the gradual loss of innocence and time lost by adhering to this false idea of normalcy and social constructs. As “Public Bodies” devolves from pleasant jangle-pop and into a ferocious finale driven by manic vocal shouts and driving drums kicks, we hear Girl Friday channel their furious feminist energy, pleading to let the general “her” live free, unbridled from expectations. To say the second leg of “Public Bodies” is just ‘powerful’ would be short-selling what Girl Friday has accomplished here; it’s topically complex, all-encompassing, tender at first, but fiery in its tail – it is through this fire, however, that Girl Friday’s messaging is most felt.

The album’s midway point, “Earthquake”, is another uproarious example of their burning spirit, where the dam that had been withstanding the musical tension of Androgynous Mary for the opening five tracks finally succumbs and gives shape to empowering urgency. It does not offer much depth for listeners to fall into, but what it lacks in density is made up for in abashed punk rock clichés, with an anthemic chorus of “I just wanna feel like an earthquake / Everything is boring for fuck’s sake” – who’s really searching for complexity all the time, anyway? The gravity of solidarity here isn’t communicated through a cleverly constructed line or vivid image, but rather, through the sound of four individuals leaning on each other for hope, screaming together as animalistic hooligans: “There is a swelling under the surface / Comfort in yelling, making you nervous.”

Often reflected through gnarly, loud indie rock, Girl Friday’s love for one another is heartfelt, and even in moments of sadness and melancholy, they unwaveringly behold one another. On “Clotting”, the band flair their swooning goth-rock side with a song in search of healing, made gripping by an earnest vocal performance and a warm blanket of atmospheric guitar reverb that’ll remind many of The Cure’s saddest cuts. But it is the harrowingly vivid chorus that makes “Clotting” one of the most heartbreaking moments on the record: “I smell of something rotting / I’m unknotting every promise that I made / I wipe the blood, besotting / Pray for clotting, I remember all you didn’t say.” “I pray for clotting” – phew, what a phrase!

Closing the album with a similar guitar lead to the opening track, “I hope Jason is happy” is an emphatic resolution if there ever was one. As the voice of each member soars together—once more—listeners are left with a profound phrase that will etch itself in the minds of many: “you have to fight to keep your breath in this world.” So simple, and yet this is the type of sentence one would get tattooed on their inner arm. Most importantly, however, it is a statement that will undoubtedly stick with Girl Friday’s ethos as they move past this exceptional debut record and forward with their careers in the face of toxicity all around.