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Girls Names sound aware of their own excellence

"Arms Around A Vision"

Girls Names Arms Around A Vision
30 September 2015, 15:30 Written by Hayley Scott
For a band whose output has been mostly defined by reinvention, Girls Names’ trajectory couldn’t be more fitting.

While 2011’s Dead To Me affirmed their predilection for jangly guitars, it was a safe introduction to the band, and not much distanced them from the rest of the jangle-pop contingent associated with their then label mates on Slumberland Records. Rather than simply being in the throes of finding their feet, however, you got the feeling that they weren’t quite being true to themselves.

Still, their potential was palpable, and they've come a long way since then. Its follow up - the aptly titled The New Life, shifted into darker territory and inclined towards a more fully realised, focused vision. Nothing evinced this sonic shift better than the title track: the obscured vocals, propulsive guitar rhythms, motorik drumming and monotonous bass lines were of course derivative, but they utlised their influences well.

On first impressions, Arms Around A Vision blows you away, but it's equally divisive, as it’s the understated brilliance of The New Life that’s distinctly amiss here, and it takes some getting used to. The press release – not to mention the title of the album itself – is the sort of wanky, elaborate drivel that usually puts me off ever going near a record, and through being too self-aware, it’s a step forward in terms of ambition and scope, but a step back into something a little more contrived. In trying to achieve something different, they’ve negated some of their best facets. They exploit the band’s renowned darkness, heighten it and take it somewhere completely new, but their pop sensibility is lacking, and that’s where the problem lies, because it was the spectral, melodic impulses that made The New Life casually prevail. The creeping meander from glitchy instrumental opener "Portrait" into "Pittura Infamante", for example, still linger on interludes like "Obsession" and "Convalescence", but Cully's typically lathargic vocals are forgone in favour of something more emphatic and direct, so as to not draw attention away from the lyrics that are much less cryptc, or as Cully put it: "the words are decent, so why bury them in the mix?".

While influences that informed them previously are still present; a dark, woozy hybrid of Brian Eno, Nick Cave, Can and Magazine - Cully's vocals are the main difference here, at times having the same pronounced quality of Joe Strummer's, particularly on the triumphant "Chrome Rose" - a wonderfully hypnotic track that thrives in its repetativeness - the cyclical drum beats, bass lines and sinister electronic tinges reminding you why they were so great in the first place. Lyrically and musically, it's the strongest track on the LP: "I hate you all, you and your friends are no friends of mine" spits Cully, with a newfound forceness that's initially confounding, but works perfectly here. Elsewhere, there are other tracks that are even stronger than anything on The New Life, but that's balanced by the forgetful "Dysmorphia" and "Exploit Me". Opener "Reticence" has a frantic beligerence that's lacking elsewhere, and "I Was You" is the perfect album closer with its shackle-free, slow-burning crescendo.

Girls Names have succeeded in their attempt to slowly reinvent themselves into a band that mean serious business, though as a result they’ve almost become a parody of themselves. Look no further than the recent video for "The Hunger Artist" - while it's clearly a pastiche of archive british TV, I fear that their excellence has gone to their heads a bit. That’s not to say that Arms Around A Vision isn’t a veritable success, however – in fact, over time, it's proved itself to be dark, intelligent and one of the most imaginative albums of the year so far, but whether it’s as enduring as its predecessor, only time will tell.

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