Album Review: M(h)aol – Attachment Styles

[Tulle; 2023]

Irish feminist band M(h)aol (pronounced “male”) first punctured into my consciousness with the release of “Asking For It” back in 2021, with all proceeds going to Women’s Aid. Coming hotly on the heels of the horrific Sarah Everard murder at the hands of a Metropolitan police officer, the single’s stark black-and-white cover of a female fist gripping a set of keys with their blades protruding between the fingers, juxtaposed with the title “Asking For It”, landed like a bomb. The scrappy, furious music only doubled down on the imagery, piledriving home M(h)aol’s anger and fear at the regularity of violence against women in the modern day.

Two years later, “Asking For It” appears again as the opening track on M(h)aol’s debut album Attachment Styles in a new form. The recording quality is higher, only making the fury and ferocity all the more impactful – and considering the album is coming out just when another Metropolitan police officer is in the headlines for years of horrific abuse towards women, the song’s amplification is fully, terrifyingly justified.

But its inclusion on Attachment Styles is also important because it is emblematic of the effort and connection behind M(h)aol. It was the first song that vocalist Róisín Nic Ghearailt wrote for the band, way back in 2016, and the fact that the band has pushed through the last seven years to finally release their debut album – despite being spread across Dublin, Bristol and London – is testament to the bonds between the quintet and their shared conviction to make sure these vital songs make it out into the world.

Ghearailt spearheads M(h)aol with a potent mix of high-brow sources and unsubtle delivery – perfect for punk. Her degree in Gender Studies and subsequent readings form the basis of her messages, but she understands that three-minute tracks are not the place to expound at length. Instead, she boils the ideas down to sharp phrases like “was I asking for it?” or “I’m so bored of talking about men” or “you really fucked me up, but I don’t think that you care” and many more instantly quotables. 

She can switch her voice from a leaden deadpan to an ironic smirk, seemingly inviting someone to challenge her views – but you know there’s a truck load of intelligence and knowledge beneath it all, waiting to be unleashed. There’s something of Lizzy Caplan’s Mean Girls character Janis to it, especially on the hilarious “No One Ever Talks To Us”; she’s intimidating and challenging on the surface, but undoubtedly fascinating and containing multitudes underneath, if you just dare to get to know her. This character is also glimpsed at in other, more lighthearted tracks like “Therapy” (“I should charge you for my therapy but I don’t want your name on there”) and the 46 second jam “Kim Is A Punk Type Dog”. 

No matter the tone, the band back up her missives with a tangled, taut post-punk style that can shift from battering ram force to curdling atmospherics – always ensuring that the messages are foregrounded in a way that yields maximum impact. They come out swinging in the opening triplet of tracks, fully embodying the punk spirit in their thrashing, domineering approach. The blunt force of “Bored Of Men” stands out as a thrusting, unforgiving attack on the patriarchy in the simplest of terms. 

While these could easily have set the template for a thrilling record, M(h)aol aren’t content to stick to one path. “Bisexual Anxiety” is a poem that Ghearailt wrote when she was much younger and more insecure, and she delivers it here with an ironic tone that reflects her naïveté – but the cold, shuddering sound bed that’s placed beneath it clues us into the true anxiety she was feeling at the time she wrote it. “Cowboy Honey” is a quietly intimidating expression of being, rife with clicking and twanging that creates a tension you dare not break. Closer “Period Sex” is another challenge to male conventions, presented as a country punk jam that revels in the joy of the titular act and provokes anyone who’s afraid of menstrual blood, looking them in the eye and asking, “no ride for you, big boy?”

M(h)aol released “Period Sex” as a single with an excellent video shortly before Attachment Styles, but found themselves “shadow banned” purely for the title alone. It’s an unfortunate indication of the power the patriarchy still holds in modern society. While it has since been reinstated, this is a perfect encapsulation of how difficult it is to be truly punk in the modern day, when faceless corporations can make your slaved-over work disappear with the click of a button. While the band were justifiably disappointed and enraged by this, it is exactly this kind of activity that sparked the quintet to form M(h)aol and keep it going through years of turmoil and disconnection. It will only fuel them to keep going and fighting this David vs Goliath battle, hopefully bringing more people into their army at every opportunity. It’s this determination that makes M(h)aol an important act in the modern independent music landscape.