It seems as though Girls Names have had a change of heart. Although their debut album, Dead to Me, was only released a couple of years ago, the Northern Irish four-piece have made a heel-face turn when it comes to their sound, trading in the surf-tinged indie rock of that album for a gothic kind of post-punk. In fact, the release of their debut had been delayed so much that by the time it saw the light of day, the band were already experimenting with the sound that would inform The New Life, their latest album.
So it’s out with the joy of Dead to Me, in with the Joy Division rip-offs of The New Life. While their previous LP wasn’t exactly the happiest album ever made, there was at least a kinetic energy which is totally absent from this album. Thanks to some lousy production, everything here is drowned in layers of mud. The higher frequencies are almost completely neglected and as such, everything sounds unenthusiastic; nothing pops out or grabs your attention at all.
All this makes trying to unearth Cathal Cully’s distant vocals even harder. The best post-punk bands had singers that were just as arresting as the music, but the vocals here are anaemic, buried low in the mix, smothered in reverb–it’s almost as if they’re doing everything in their power to stop you from hearing whatever Cathal has to say. In that repesct, you could easily compare them to Crystal Stilts–except Girls Names aren’t anywhere near as inventive when it comes to making music to go with those vocals.
Trying to emulate the highly-regarded post-punk bands of the ’80s just brings out the faults in Girls Names even more. The title track, especially, has the kind of cyclical progression that bands like The Chameleons could have used so effectively. But in Girls Names‘ hands, they’re just tiresome, repetitive slogs that overstay their welcome. Considering that their previous album came in at a bitesize 28 minutes, it’s pretty telling that a lot of the ideas here feel stretched to fill the much longer 45-minute runtime.
There are some interesting moments dotted here and there – “A Second Skin” suddenly shifts gears and slows down the tempo to bring you this expansive, synth-laden bridge, and “Projektion” builds up to this glorious coda that’s based around one of the better riffs on the album. But where there’s a good riff, there’s a good chance it’ll be repeated over and over again, ad infinitum (with very little embellishment along the way).
Funnily enough, everything about this album can be summed up by its cover (which I suppose is its one success – at least they tell you that what you’re going to get is gonna be grey, austere, and unspeakably dull). And the fact that the tiny date in the upper-right-hand corner feels so out of place just shows you how anachronistic this band are to 2013. That said, if this album came out 30 years ago, it would probably have sounded more even boring and derivative against the backdrop of such an exciting time in music.