Elegant house, how well you speak
For the one who fathered me there,
With your sanguine face, your moody provincial charm
And that Anglo-Irish air
Of living beyond one’s means to keep up
An era beyond repair.
—Cecil Day-Lewis, excerpt from “The House Where I Was Born”
Cecil Day-Lewis, poet and father of the eccentric actor you are definitely familiar with, wrote the above poem about Ballintubbert House, the Irish country manor where he was born in 1904. Over a century later, Dublin noise rockers Girl Band took over the space to birth their sophomore LP, The Talkies. “In many ways the idea behind the album was to make an audio representation of the house,” guitarist Alan Duggan explains.
More than anything, though, their newest music speaks to a state of mind, one that’s quite pervasive these days: an apocalyptic anxiety, a dread that seeps into your bloodstream and quickens your heartbeat. Their acclaimed debut Holding Hands with Jamie was largely derived from vocalist Dara Kiely’s own mental health, including a post-breakup psychotic episode. Around that time, the group cancelled tour dates for their first LP due to health issues. Now they’ve returned, and are ready to revisit the gray matter floating between our ears.
“Prolix” sets the tone as Kiely shakily pants over a pulsating beat like he’s just outrun some unseen hunter. With his breath in our ears, you begin to feel isolation creep in. We knew from the beginning this wouldn’t be a relaxing listen, but instead, it’s a head-first journey into an overwhelming vortex of unnerving thoughts. On “Shoulderblades,” Kiely repeats during the chorus, “It’s like a hat for Ed Mordake,” referring to the legend about a man who had a second, fiendish face on the back of his head (his story is an excellent Internet rabbit hole to fall down if you have the time) and the duality of our own nature. The song flips between the controlled, sardonically sing-spoken verses and the aggressive, distorted chorus like a sonic manifestation of Mordake’s conventional face and the demon with which he shared a skull. “Feel like a chicken,” Kiely starts, then screams, “Act like a cock.”
That’s the clearest Girl Band are with their lyrics, though, as much of the album is comprised of lines with the best-sounding words slotted in, an idiosyncratic method giving each track its own sense of playful surrealism. Kiely communicates purely in palindromes for “Aibohphobia,” (the fictional fear of palindromes). Later on “Prefab Castle,” he decides he’s “gonna Barbie a Ken on a barbwire fence.” His delivery alternates between devil-may-care—the beginning of “Couch Combover” has the same lackadaisical sing-song air as a Pavement song—and cathartically forceful, the latter occasionally tipping over into guttural noises that make you think Kiely may be struggling with a hairball.
The sound which they use to capture Ballintubbert House is taut with the same tension found on Holding Hands With Jamie. Adam Faulkner’s nearly omnipresent drum beat hypnotizes the listener, drawing them further into Girl Band’s world: A place populated with squealing guitars, distorted sirens and bass that, despite being laden with effects, still sounds raw.
Perhaps this album is called The Talkies because in comparison, all other music may as well be from the silent film era. Unlike black midi, Girl Band isn’t trying to put on airs. Their noise rock is arguably more accessible, a term often used pejoratively but meant as positively as possible here. The Irish group have distilled their music into what noise rock is about at its core: waves of sound that convey emotion effectively, and lyrics that feel at once indecipherable and evocative. There’s little noodling here, which isn’t to say that The Talkies is stripped down, but rather, Girl Band trims the fat where other bands fail to.
We leave The Talkies much like we arrived—with wordless instrumentals. The final track’s title is “Ereignis,” which translates to “event” in German, a term that feels appropriate yet inadequate when trying to sum up Girl Band’s dozen latest songs. Girl Band didn’t invent noise rock, but they have damn near perfected it.