Hardly Art are hardly novices at breaking new bands – the label gave early releases to the likes of Tacocat, La Luz, Shannon & The Clams and Colleen Green, amongst many others – but for LA four-piece Girl Friday, this debut album release on the label reflects a massive step forward for a band after just two EPs, which were self-released. But equally, for a group with this diversity of influence, and this originality of expression, perhaps it’s not so surprising that they’re hosting the band’s new album Androgynous Mary.
The group came together via a chance encounter when guitarist Vera met bassist Libby at a friend’s house, at UCLA. Impressed by Libby’s particular style of playing bass – the Peter Hook merged with Kim Deal style of which certainly informs the ten tracks on Androgynous Mary. Vera introduced herself and the pair began making music together, bringing in additional guitarist Sierra and drummer Virginia through friends of friends.
What really marks the group out is their refusal to pigeon-hole themselves, generically, with this LP displaying flashes of surf-rock, garage, post-punk, goth, art-rock and pop-punk. And, although the foursome certainly have a broadly feminist identity, this is no mere political screed. Rather, it’s a collage of sounds and ideas from their time together, as informed by “parking lot murals” as the SCUM Manifesto, in a way not dissimilar to Girl Friday’s hero, Courtney Love.
Album opener, ‘This Is Not the Indie Rock I Signed Up For’, is a case-in-point. It’s initially a gentle lead-in that shows off Girl Friday’s gorgeous vocal harmonies and soaring guitar lines, all contained in a mid-tempo post-punk ballad. But, in perhaps a meta callback to its title, the song falls apart into a free-form breakdown a few minutes in, before returning to its original style.
Second track and the album’s lead single, ‘Amber’s Knees: A Matter of Concern’ is built around a choppy, spikey slice of lo-fi indie-punk guitar. Described by the group as a consideration of “the borders of culturally sanctioned dissociation and the wilful ignorance we often employ to keep things functioning”, its juxtaposition of post-punk and lyrical density gives it a substantial atmosphere that belies the accessibility of its sound. This is also true to some extent with ‘Eaten Things’, which veers more towards a gloomy, grunge sludge bass-led sound, and thumping percussion – “I want to eat you up” goes its chorus, before a grim sounding middle eight that sounds epically gothic.
Lyrically, ‘Public Bodies’ is a return to the observational nature of the first two tracks, whilst sonically shifting the album into Allo Darlin’ style melancholic indie-pop. Musing on mainstream rejection, isolation and the inaccessibility of healthcare in the USA (that’s one interpretation), it uses images of religion and bodies consumed by capitalist machinery, stating “…if you want your independence, then you trade your health for cash”. The song closes with a Goo-era Sonic Youth style coda, underlining the band’s ability to re-construct their songs, seemingly on the spur of the moment, like an act of collective will. This is also true of what follows in ‘What We Do It For’ – opening with 90 seconds of post-punk instrumental led by spectral guitars (not far from the early days of Interpol), leading to a middle section of balladic harmonies, and closing with a flurry of guitars and drums; it’s like three different songs beautifully crashing into each other.
‘Earthquake’ is a more immediate, Runaways style garage banger, replete with a shouty chorus which, somewhat appropriately, leads to an emotional shift in the album. ‘Clotting’ contains soft vocalisations and more personally emotive lyrics, not dissimilar to Sleater Kinney’s quieter work, whilst ‘Gold Stars’ is a mid-tempo grunge tale of an unwanted relationship (“I said leave, but you heard love”), underscored by Libby’s bass melodies.
Closers ‘Favourite Friend’ and ‘I Hope Jason Is Happy’ form a dovetailing pair, sharing a stadium-filling guitar line that shines throughout both – “My head doesn’t fit the crown, does it matter anymore?” opens the lyrics on the mournful former, and the track slowly grows in intensity, dropping away to leave only the sustained guitar lead-in to the LP’s closer. Over a marching drum beat and fuzzy guitars, Girl Friday’s four members sing “My head is on your chest / In the end I’ll be happy if you do your best / You’ve got to fight to keep your breath in this world” and, with that, it finishes.
Precocious, without being naïve, and intelligent, without being pretentious, Girl Friday have crafted a debut that is no mere polemic, but allows imagist lyrics and inventive song-craft to create a palpable sense of character for the listener to lean into. It cuts a slice through influences, that stretch from the early ’70s, up to the present day – sifting, magpie-like, through the works of The Breeders, The Slits, Girlpool, Placebo, and (perhaps unconsciously) the C86 movement. Throughout, that bass sound flows, like a dark river, stretching a taut string across ten tracks, that each ring with their own distinct power. In short, Girl Friday have constructed a debut that’s suitable for all the days of the week.
Androgynous Mary is out 21st August via Hardly Art. Pre-order here.
Photo Credit: Al Kalyk