Hurray! Stream Girls Names' Third LP 'Arms Around a Vision'
The Belfast band deliver a record packed with glorious discordance and hidden pop hooks. Love, anger, confusion swirl together and singer Cathal Cully gives us a track by track.
This album is all kinds of yes. Yes to the dissonance married to pop nous. Yes to the bleak. Yes to the bass. Yes to an album that swirls with the same angsty, heart-shook passion as Detroit's Protomartyr, The Fall, The Horrors, and maybe even Ride and The Rakes (at their most dour). Former single "Reticence" opens the record with a minor chord cacophony and a bassline that threatens and looms like the unknown buried deep in your psyche. But then the clouds break for a verse that's almost Smiths-ian in its melancholic pull. It's a pattern echoed in other songs such as "Take Out the Hand" and "Malaga" (which exits to what sounds like a swarm of bees organizing for war)—the sonic desolation often makes a swerve towards the light.
At this point the Belfast quartet are three albums deep—including imminent new record, Arms Around a Vision, which we're streaming for the first time below (it's out on 10.2). Not bad going for a group who singer Cathal Cully formed back in early 2009 purely to rise to the challenge of supporting Wavves when they swung through his town. Fast-forward all these years later to May 2015 and Girls Names have submitted their third opus AAAV. The intervening months of distance between completion and delivery has afforded Cully plenty of time to reflect on the collection with interesting results.
"It's fascinating listening back to that person and that raw energy and outpouring of ideas and emotions," he explains. "It was a vital part of healing a few emotional and mental frustrations and difficulties. Hatred crops up a few times—rears its ugly head. I was very distracted by myself. There is as much light as there is shade in AAAV. I think it's a record that sucks you into a world of turbulence and conflict and frustration and desperation but a world in search of beauty—beauty and love, unconditional. I think love is the most prevalent theme: The one thing I get from this record boils down to the fact that nothing matters a jot if you can't let love in, as the man said. It's a romantic record."
Although love is the kernal that Cully returns to again and again—because, in all its iterations love (and hate) are the universal emotions understandable to all—for a band an album really is a time capsule. So we were curious, if Cully were to look back at this album in ten years what would it say him about his life right now.
"I'll have just turned 40 if that's the case if I'm still around," said Cully. "I made this when I was 29 in the midst of the most turbulent time I've had to deal with to date and I've just turned 30 now so I think it's actually a great celebration to be marking that personal milestone with this band’s best body of work yet. We're proud of it so hopefully I still will be. But my world's opened up a lot more and I've had to open myself up into a different way of living since we made this. I'm still finding out about myself all the time and therefore I'm still finding out about this record. It has a sense of urgency and it feels fresh and vital. People will talk that it sounds like post-this and post-that but it's 100 percent 2015. We've separated ourselves from a lot of our contemporaries—can you name another band who's made a record like this in 2015? It feels relevant more than ever now. If the revolution has started by the time I'm 40 then hopefully we'll still be able to celebrate this record."
And in celebration of this record, you can listen to it now, four days ahead of its release, plus Cully's given us an in-depth track by track. Investigate immediately; it goes deep.
I'd been playing about with that discordant intro riff for a couple of years and never knew where to go with it. We jammed it out and then knew we wanted it to totally flip it and turn it into a different song when you're least expecting it. That sleaze groove that just keeps building and building. Unrepenting. It's about love but specifically the anxiety and insecurities and the complexities of an idea of loving someone unconditionally. It's a great way to kick of the record, both thematically and sonically—we going to explore these ideas and you're going to take note.
“An Artificial Spring”
This is the most conventional thing we've done on the record. Killer guitar solo at the end, perversely faded out. I kept telling Dan to turn up the pianos, like a weird Swell Maps/Wire vibe. Anxiety seems to be popping up again. There's definitely an ode to Warm Jets/Taking Tiger Mountain era Eno happening here too. The greatest piece of advice I've ever taken on board was from David Holmes. He told me, "If it sounds weird, make it weirder." I love that. I only fear we didn't bastardize this pop song enough!
Llove the organ on this. Yeah it's an organ, an old Yamaha (can't remember the model) but it's run through a flanger and delays and into a Roland JC120 and more chorus and room mics so you're getting a lot of the live room sound. That analog idea of recording is really great, sometimes going straight into a desk is perfect but this technique we used a lot and gives the electronics a life of their own, like another member. It's lush—it's totally electric. I think we originally laid down a Korg ms20 but it just wasn't right. It was too weak and bubbly. This organ was inspired. It's really earthy: electric but organic it's an artery throbbing down the middle of the song. Don't let all this shit get on top of you... Love is the only thing that matters.
And now here's this obsession theme creeping in. A little interlude. It's the most simple piece on the record but its effect is strong. It's got no words but it speaks volumes.
So we jam from time to time and this was Gib's steady beat, simple yet hypnotic. Again we started to make it build and then we build it up some more. I love the string machines on this, i've a bit of a string machine fetish. They're so beautiful sounding. Again this another song with quite a schizophrenic and manic development. "I HATE YOU ALL" I love that line. Not too many bands and artists are willing to commit subjecting their audience to that. I meant every four words. I still mean it when I sing it. But I'll go into the confusion of the words "I" and "You" on this record later...
“A Hunger Artist”
Everyone's picking up on this like I'm starving myself to death. Kafka will explain the idea to you a million time's better than I ever could but the frustration is so tenable in my voice. Sometimes you feel like you're constantly banging your head against a wall. You have to kick and you have to scream, the cunts are still running the world. "The State so fraudulent.." Anyway, It's a great tune.
The start of Side B, the best side. I love this track. It's a courtship between artist and listener. We're sucking you in, we're drawing you in, second by second, word by word. Come into our world. It's totally immersive and it's totally seductive. I always knew this structure would be the best outcome for this song. When we drop back down to the murky end of the track you're left hanging. Claire's bass is the rock steadying the ship—it's unshakeable. You'll want more and you'll go back for more. I loved playing violin on this track. Myself and Phil were saying the other day when we get some cash together we're gonna buy some new stringed instruments like a viola and cello.
Did someone say The Fall?! We wrote this song in about 15 minutes and I thought it was really throwaway but it's turning out to be one of my favorites on the record. I think because it's a lot more complex than it's initial simplistic arrangement. Again the words are pretty good. I can't explain most of the songs as they've got multiple meanings and they even change for me each time I listen. Read them on the sleeve. Again, that organ is heavy!
It's the same melody as (Obsession) but Phil had the idea of doing an "organic" version using mostly acoustic instruments instead of synths. So there we where, me and him, scrambling around at about 7 PM on a Saturday evening while we grabbed any instrument at hand, violin, guitar, piano, Melotron, organ and Ben our engineer just hit record and looped it all together. You can really hear that sense of documenting a moment perfectly from it. It may be a load of loops but it's very human and you can feel us playing the instruments. It's really beautiful. It's the perfect interlude to lead into the final and most important act of the record...
This is currently my favorite track on the record. In time it'll seep into you're skin and will be yours too. I think I owe a lot to Malaria! for that synth line. The words are the most open I've ever outwardly been about anything but it's still a little abstract as to what exactly. We all want to be exploited—we want love to exploit us and to be taken away from the banality of life—from the struggle and the strife and to be plunged into a world of ecstasy, pleasure without consequence. To be transcended beyond good and evil. And the best thing about this track is that it's totally Balearic. We only went and made some weirdo Balearic banger. I can't express to you enough how much I love that! The saxophone was inspired and a lot of the arrangement and noises and instrumentation was pretty much improvised. We were letting our hearts take control with no time for thoughts. So for that, the willingness to lose yourself to this idea of exploitation and to the moment is quite real and its tangible grip is very real on this track.
“Take Out The Hand”
Anger as an energy. The music was written pretty quickly by us all in about half an hour. Then we figured out the second act later on. Phil came up with that soaring string synth arrangement at the end and it sounds like we are falling head first into the car smash. It's draining. This is all my frustrations poured into this track. This particular song is very politically charged, but it's also rooted in raw sense of personal angst. The bass and the drums are so locked in on this. It's that the key to this record, Gib and Claire have been solid down the middle and that's left Phil myself all this room and space to manipulate these songs into something completely different.
“I Was You”
This is beautiful. I'm going to be too honest for my own good here but I'll not totally give the game away just yet. Three years ago I saw an exhibition by this local artist friend who had an installation in her bedroom and on the background on the TV was this porn film. I was terribly disturbed by the experience as I was struggling with some personal trauma at the time and it was as if I was watching myself on the screen and found it very affronting being subjected to every emotion that comes with being confronted by your sexual and emotional and physical desires and longing when you're not in that place that you feel you can. So I had this sinister bassline with the opening words "disturbance screen" going round in my head for about two years with this horror flashback in mind. It's frightening listening back how on-point the words are. They might seem all over the place but they make sense to me from that time. It was such a manic and angst ridden time. "So you're trying to wrap my arms around a vision" just rolled off the tongue. It's very distressing in a way to let yourself be lost in the grip of a strangling despair and channel all this into the music and the words.
The next day the noise and the dissonance and the overdubs of piano and violin where laid down in a few hours. Again that organ was inspired—an instant melody idea turned reality in the space of 10 minutes. As soon as that was recorded I kind of snapped out of it a bit and felt a great release, a huge weight was lifted. You see there's a lot of confusion between my use of “I” and "you" all over this track and, like I said previously, all over the record. The line's are blurred several times between me and you, hence I was you. But I was you serves this notion well, I think we could all get something from this track. When you confront a lot of fear and distress and horror you can do anything. The power of art and music!