Holding Hands with Jamie is a dense, damn near impenetrable album of noise, feedback and screams.
What does a frenzied brain sound like? Is it possible to get the jittering, shuddering, grating sensations into auditory form? The answer is yes, and the conduit is Girl Band. No other band in recent memory has been able to nail the notes of madness quite like them. The Dublin quartet, once known for a steely sort of post-punk, has graduated into a noise and no wave group, and, in the process, has delivered the sounds of madness in a neat package called Holding Hands with Jamie.
The music does this well enough on its own, but the backstory to Holding Hands with Jamie further enforces a narrative of paranoia and collapse. Lead howler Dara Kiely, found himself in dire mental straights after a horrific breakup; camping out in his mother’s backyard for a time, then suffering a full breakdown before finally checking into a mental healthcare facility.
Kiely appears to be doing much better now, but Holding Hands is a frightening look into the brain of someone on the edge. While Kiely was recovering, the rest of his bandmates were still recording and writing, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that something hideous had happened to all of them as well. The opening salvo “Umbongo” shows off Girl Band’s piercing dynamics in short order. Alan Duggan’s guitar cries like its being held at knifepoint, Adam Faulkner delivers his Krautrock-on-bath-salts drumming and Daniel Fox releases a bass squall that’s as impermeable as it is massive. And that’s all before Kiely starts crooning about a man who “claimed he was a professionally trained surgeon” only to bring up cannibalism just a few lines later. Kiely’s character study of a Hannibal-esque wannabe comes during a lull in the war cry. It builds tension the whole while by implying the insanity will soon crash back in. And crash back in it does.
The ebb and flow of volume gives Holding Hands’ its finest powers. It wouldn’t be surprising to see any number of Holding Hands’ tracks find their way onto horror flicks—particularly of the Saw variety—mostly due to Duggan’s guitar doing impressions of ice chippers, furnaces and the effects of acid on human flesh. The second track, “Pears for Lunch,” matches the instrumental fervor with Kiely’s psycho-sexual lyrics, going on about watching Top Gear with no clothes on before screaming “I don’t know what she was.” “The Last Riddler” relates Kiely’s meeting with a doctor during his panic-filled period. The doc just wants Kiely to sit down and talk with him, only for Kiely to refuse and derail the conversation by asking what the dear doctor’s favorite band is. When the answer is ABBA, Kiely jumps into a breathless tangent as the rest of the band breaks out a smattering of steely noise. It’s the most punk thing here with its breakneck speed and one-and-a-half-minute run time. That’s not to say sheer power is the only thing Girl Band has, however. Holding Hands reveals an entrancing range, from the near romantic waltz of “In Plastic” and the gray dirge of “Texting an Alien” which has Duggan’s only “normal” performance on the six string.
Pre-2015, Girl Band’s growing buzz was centered on two of their lengthiest tracks. The first was the slasher-flick worthy “Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage” (a cover of a house tune of all things) and the post-punk maelstrom that was “Lawman.” Up until Holding Hands, they were Girl Band’s finest songs, but, thankfully, the lads have two songs to match these brilliant, horrid heights. The nearly eight minute long “Fucking Butter” chugs along with a riff that sounds as if it’s being played with an icepick while Faulkner manages to keep blistering time between shuddering fills. The song ends with a ghostly Kiely chanting in the background “Nutella! Nutella! Nutella! Nutella!,” made all the more terrifying by the song’s unwillingness to resolve itself with a bone shattering climax.
“Paul,”—the album’s lead single—on the other hand, climaxes no fewer than three times into squalls of sludgy bass, cacophonous drums, chilling guitar and Kiely howling, “My daughter Paul” But it’s the build-up in between the bursts that creates the fear. The spine-tingling bassline (played using a beer bottle as a slide) subtly rises in volume, matching Kiely’s ramblings, before the first thrashing explosion. The second, less traditional eruption has Duggan producing Psycho like ascending lines and Kiely singing in an insanely creepy falsetto that seems to mock the listener for trying to make it this far. The finale is perhaps the most “rock” thing on the album, and it absolutely kicks a tremendous amount of ass. I can’t imagine it happening live without a limb-shattering mosh pit.
Holding Hands with Jamie is a dense, damn near impenetrable album of noise, feedback and screams. But it’s all the better for it. It’s insidious enough to soundtrack your next panic attack as it asks over and over again, “Can I play with madness?”
Yes, Girl Band. Yes, please.