Goat Girl – ‘On All Fours’ review: expansive post-punks weave an intricate web

On their intimate second album, the south Londoners experiment with softer new soundscapes – though still refuse to look away from the murkier side of life

With their self-titled debut album, released in 2018, Goat Girl were regarded as an inherently political band. In part, it was down to incendiary songs such as ‘Burn the Stake’, which built a bonfire out of the Tories and their right-wing allies the DUP, and set them alight. You also have to wonder if their roots in the post-punk scene surrounding scrappy Brixton venue The Windmill played a part: in among a crowd led by men in bands – Shame, Black Midi, Squid, HMLTD and Fat White Family – Goat Girl were outliers. But does their existence alone make them political?

In reality, the politics running through Goat Girl’s music most frequently stem from a personal place, often drawing on aspects of this very conundrum. Unfortunately for women and non-binary people, many of life’s unsavoury interactions come with this same political undertone, grounded as they are in sexism and inequality. The weight of this is often exhausting, and frequently Goat Girl capture this same sense of moving through the world, as a woman or non-binary person, and being constantly watched. A weighty sense of being constantly consumed hangs over their debut record. Just take a song like ‘Creep’ (which recounts being leered at by a stranger on the train), the judgemental eyes that glare through the heart of ‘I Don’t Care Part 1’ or the twanging ‘Country Sleaze’.

With ‘On All Fours’ Goat Girl builds on this knack for addressing bigger issues with smaller everyday stories – and draws from an increasingly electronic pool of musical influences. As they move away from grinding, relentless guitars, the intensity hits differently here – instead of whacking you around the chops in a squall of distortion, it creeps up by spinning an intricate careful web instead, sometimes recalling ‘The Fool’-era Warpaint. Closer ‘A-Men’ even borders on plaintive pop ballad. More collaborative and experimental than its predecessor, this record was pieced together from home demos, phone recordings and fragments of melody that each member brought to the table. This lends the album a looser, more experimental feel.

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Tonally, this feels like a distinct shift, and indeed, Goat Girl went through their own personal upheaval while working on ‘On All Fours’. As work was well underway, the band’s guitarist and vocalist Ellie Rose Davies was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of blood cancer. The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic put her at serious risk as she underwent chemotherapy – though Davies is in remission, facing her own mortality was a painful experience that changed her permanently. “The thought that death was knocking at the door was very real for me,” she told The Guardian, “and that still hasn’t gone away.”

Though Davies’ experiences don’t appear to be addressed directly, the scope of ‘On All Fours’ is also wider – and often hinges upon confronting things in spite of a reflex urge to ignore disaster or wrong-doing. Percussive and sharp-edged, ‘The Crack’ touches on climate change, and humanity’s tendency to simply look away. The spiny ‘Badibab’ speaks to a similar apathy: “Tearing up and burning down, leave all sadness underground,” fellow singer-guitarist Lottie Pendlebury sings, accompanied by chipper doo-wop backing vocals, “shove it somewhere we won’t see, turn our mess into debris.”

A pacy, synthy outlier from the band’s previously swampy, guitar-led output, ‘P.T.S.Tea’ revisits a day on tour when drummer Rosy Jones (who is non-binary) was scalded by a stranger’s coffee on a ferry – the band ended up having to cancel live dates so that Jones could recover, and meanwhile the man responsible walked away without apologising. “Chug, chug, chug along on the ferry,” it recounts, jarring with disarmingly jaunty pops of synth, “dumb man wouldn’t even look back at me.” For Jones, the experience bore parallels with other men who felt entitled to ask invasive questions in the past, disregarding their discomfort entirely.

Though its title suggests burning out and giving up entirely, ‘On All Fours’ winds up channeling this helplessness into something vaguely hopeful and more experimental. It might not hold any firm answers or blazing rebuttals to the world burning up like a flaming, stinking trash can, but crucially it refuses to look away from the mess, and confronts it instead.

Details

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Release date: January 31

Release label: Rough Trade

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