Disclosure and Chvrches might be battling it out for best dance-flavoured comeback of 2015, but theirs aren’t the only records worth your time this week. New 4AD signing US Girls’ album unveils Canadian singer Meghan Remy as a star in the making, while ex-Lostprophets members release their debut as No Devotion. Read on to find out just why those two are so good, as well as what else you should be listening to right now.
Girl Band – ‘Holding Hands With Jamie’
Girl Band are a four-piece from Dublin – none are girls – who make demented, deconstructed punk songs that bolt in about eight different directions at once. Debut album ‘Holding Hands With Jamie’ is a wilfully uneven mix of pounding grunge riffs, ambient black metal squalls and sneering, snotty art-punk. If that sounds po-faced, it’s actually anything but, thanks to the bewildering number of ideas crammed into each track and vocalist Dara Kiely’s surreal and darkly comic lyrics, which evoke the queasy, oil-black humour of the late novelist Iain Banks (from ‘Paul’: “Her bleached moustache has given us a rash… My daughter Paul!”). These nine songs often build and build only to splutter out in a last, exhausted gasp. And then the next track cranks up and the cycle continues, giving the record a grinding, thwarted sense of frustration. Highlight ‘Fucking Butter’ is like a clammy night sweat, combining more ludicrous lyrics (“Nutella! Nutella! Nutella!”) with a hypnotic, looping bassline and spasmodic bursts of percussion, distilling Girl Band’s many virtues into eight feverish minutes.
No Devotion – ‘Permanence’
No Devotion, the band formed by former members of Lostprophets and ex-Thursday singer Geoff Rickly, need to show one thing on their debut album: that they’ve moved on. So it’s encouraging that opener ‘Break’ couldn’t have been made by either of their previous bands: taut synthesisers and programmed drums snap like Canadian dream-pop wizards Purity Ring. ‘Eyeshadow’ treads more familiar ground, thrillingly injecting the Welshmen’s knack for an anthemic chorus with Thursday’s pulsing, wide-eyed intensity. Rickly fans may be uneasy with No Devotion’s softer synthpop moments though, not least when pounding power ballad ‘10,000 Summers’ recasts the New Jersey underground hero as a Main Stage heartthrob. This radio-friendly streak grows bloated on debut single ‘Stay’, which still sounds too saccharine for these 30-something hardcore kids to pull off convincingly. By contrast, the harsh chords of ‘Addition’ are a clear nod towards the band’s screamo past. But as closing six-minute drone ‘Grand Central’ detonates in a storm of hypnotic electronics and distortion, it’s clear these guys have a future worth following too.
US Girls – ‘Half Free’
The opening track on ‘Half Free’, Meghan Remy’s third album under the US Girls moniker (and her first for new label 4AD) is about a woman who discovers that her spouse has slept with both of her sisters. It’s followed by ‘Damn That Valley’, a wonky reggae take on Springsteen’s ‘Born In The USA’, written from the perspective of a war widow whose husband was killed in Afghanistan. Neither subject is exactly a comfortable fit for the sort of pop syntax that Remy writes in, but that’s what makes ‘Half Free’ so compelling: her songs might sound like bubblegum, but more often than not, they’re laced with arsenic. ‘Half Free’ immediately feels more ambitious and cohesive than Remy’s previous work, and songs like ‘Sed Knife’ or ‘Red Comes In Many Shades’ find an equilibrium between the push-and-pull of her opposing sensibilities – old-fashioned yet post-modern, lo-fi but high-concept – that hasn’t always been there in the past. More than that, however, this is the unmistakeable sound of a star being born: this is an album with something to say, in a voice all of its own.
Julia Holter – ‘Have You In My Wilderness’
“I love going to the movies“, sings Julia Holter in ‘Lucette Stranded On The Island’. It’s a fitting statement, as album number four from this Los Angeles native is defined by its sense of cinematic grandeur and romantic narrative. Opening with ‘Feel You,’ Holter makes a bold move, diving straight into ‘end-of-the-live-set’ drama and crescendo. Its cacophony of strings evokes an immediate sense of euphoria, setting the tone for an intense, emotional record. ‘How Long’ contains all the suspense of a 1950s spy thriller, the Germanic, Nico-esque husk to Holter’s voice set high in the mix, heavy with intrigue. This accomplished portfolio of chamber pop ends on a haunting note in the form of its slow, stark title-track. Loving at the outset (“Lady of gold… in your waters I’ve dropped anchor“) it turns tortured and ends up full of regret (“Tell me why do I feel you running away“), ensuring Holter’s love story turns dark as the credits roll.