The period since Belfast’s Girls Names’ third album, 2015’s Arms Around A Vision, has been troublesome. Losing their drummer in 2016 led to a period of disillusionment with the tracks already recorded for Stains On Silence, their fourth long player. Shelving that version of the album and returning to day jobs as the money had run dry should have meant the end of the band; happily, after a period of reflection they revisited the songs and re-recorded them using drum machines.
The most immediate difference is how wilfully uncommercial this album is, especially since their previous two albums AAAV and 2013’s excellent The New Life were full of shiny indie pop nuggets. Granted, this band never released Taylor Swift-esque bangers exactly, but they did have a knack for a catchy track, albeit ones which were underpinned by dark, oppressive and thoroughly miserable themes.
For SOS they delve deeper into the history of post-punk, opening track "25" desolate two-minute opener and skeletal guitar riffs are worthy of a comparison with post-punk’s finest underachievers The Sound, while the cheapo pre-programmed drum machines, slurred vocal delivery and disconnected synthesisers are a track by a pre-ecstasy A Certain Ratio.
Tracks like "The Process" scream of a "fuck it" approach to the album; dank, beyond intense and messy, it sprawls along without achieving much and is a thrill because of it. "The Impaled Mystique" is the only track here with a recognisable chorus, and gives a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it glimpse at their past material's love of a hook. Yet it’s so messily composed, built upon a barely tuned acoustic guitar, synths too high in the mix, and a general sound of teetering on the edge of wholly crumbling at any second; the clever key change halfway through is the only glimmer of light on the whole album and even this sounds bummed out.
The general "fuck this shit" attitude of the album does of course prevent it from being an album which is going to be visited for multiple plays, and at times it sounds like a bunch of demos, especially when you consider the enormity of previous tracks such as "Zero Tryptic", but the fact they’ve decided to do what the hell they want is refreshing. We’re not talking Timberlake going country, or clever-clever left turns like Arctic Monkeys' Tranquillity Base Hotel & Casino, but with the odds against them Stains on Silence is a valiant effort.