Girl Band – Holding Hands With Jamie
One of the things you pick up on when you’re married to someone with a Master’s in Political Theory is what the post- signifier is; that is, what the “post” in post-colonialism, or post-modernism, or – more relevant to this review – post-punk means. To keep things simple, it’s an act of space-clearing, a way to make room to deconstruct the implied “pre” portion and to analyze what makes it tick, so that you can put it back together in more meaningful and insightful ways.
Post-punk, then, was a deconstruction of the original first wave of punk rock, the fabled “three chords and an attitude” that came roaring out of Britain during the brutal recession of the late 1970s. A lot more went into punk rock than just three chords, of course; most of those bands were into reggae, ska, dub, country, jazz, and nearly any other form of music that wasn’t boring-as-hell California rock. A band like the Clash, or the Slits, had a lot more going on under the surface than their more popular tracks might have you believe. Post-punk took those blended ingredients, separated them, and then re-blended them into new shapes. Gang of Four took the strident political screeds of the Clash and made them dance; Pere Ubu mutated dub and ska until they were nearly unrecognizable; Swell Maps chopped the general idea of music up into something that still sounded like music, but only if you stood far enough away.
The general popularity of what we’ve come to know as “post-punk” has risen and fallen over the years, and when it’s time came around again in the early 2000s it seemed as though everyone was finding that essence rare. Unlike their forebears, though, the bands that caught the attention of the post-9/11 college kids weren’t all that interested in breaking down their influences to examine and rework them. Interpol didn’t do much to Joy Division beyond adding big basslines lifted right out of the poppier Cure albums. !!! replaced the soul of Gang of Four with disco, which is like switching out butter for margarine and pretending it’s radically different. Yeah Yeah Yeahs were an obvious dead ringer for Siouxsie Sioux. The Strokes wanted to be Television, who weren’t technically post-punk but may as well have been. The only band who really seemed to want to break apart the conventions and get right down into the very essence of revolutionary sound itself was liars, and they got ripped apart for it (They Were Wrong So We Drowned is still one of the best albums of the 2000s, dammit, and I stand by that).
So when I say that Girl Band reminds me of liars, it’s because Girl Band is also willing to take the bands that influenced them, break them down to their atomic components, and rearrange them in a fashion that is, god forbid, actually refreshing. Take “Fucking Butter” as an example: the riff that kicks it off is weirdly familiar, like I’ve heard it on a Sleigh Bells song, but what comes after pounds out that riff so that it becomes increasingly unhinged. Three minutes in and more textures get added – high-gain guitar scrapings mainly – and then it becomes piled on to the point that it feels as though it’s about to crush you. Then it resets, and we’re left with a simple clicking drum beat and wildly shouted Gang of Four-esque vocals – and that’s just the half-way point. A lot of these songs are like that. They take the Gang vocals, the Swell Maps vision of song cut-and-paste, the Pere Ubu attack-noise, but they don’t just slavishly imitate these pieces. They rearrange them instead, using them in ways that their ancestors would never have attempted. “Paul” feels like it might have come out of Big Black’s Songs About Fucking, but rather than overwhelm the listener with feedback and noise like Albini did, they use those textures to build a sonic narrative from ragged beginning to gloriously blown-out ending. You can catch all of the pillars of Eighties post-punk here and there throughout, but it’s like noticing a beak in a slurry of factory processed chicken; by the time you notice it, the line has moved on and you’re left wondering if it was real or if you just thought it was.
Like Viet Cong, Girl Band have brought new life to the spectre that has been haunting punk rock since the early 1980s. Viet Cong, however, were content to make a suit out of the skin-scraps of their influences, while Girl Band performed messy chainsaw surgery, followed by reconstructive surgery that would have made the doctor from The Human Centipede proud. Call it post-post-punk – clearing a space from the space that was originally cleared – or just call it noise. Either way, it’s highly compelling stuff.