[27 March 2014]
Another day, another ‘60s-worshiping band whose name ends in “girls”. With the “Vivian” out of the picture, you’ll forgive September Girls for jumping to seize some open real estate right next “Dum Dum”. Of course, they’ll have to forgive us if we act like we’ve heard their spiel before. An all-female band posing in black in their press kit and wishing they were in the Jesus and Mary Chain has perhaps one of the most common sights in rock these past few years. Which isn’t to say that any of those elements are bad, just that there’s a formula at play here that, for better or worse, such bands must navigate.
There must be something in the long, drippy Celtic winters that attracts people to gloomy, distorted pop because September Girls hail from just across the water from their Scottish forebearers in Dublin. After a couple of years of vinyl and cassette releases, this winter they put out their debut full-length, Cursing the Sea. Referred to in their press kit simply by their first names (which I admit I felt charmingly informal), Laura, Jessie, Caoimhe, Paula and Sarah’s first offering didn’t do much upon initial listenings to distinguish itself from the noise-revivalist pack for me. The lockstep rhythm, echoey guitars and hushed lyrics all kinda ran together. But, like a good Jesus and Mary Chain album, the more I listened, the more luxurious the torrents of noise became and the more the sweetness of the vocal melodies started to peek out.
The heart of Cursing the Sea lies in tracks four through six, a trio of songs that shows the band at its money-down best. Lead single “Heartbeat” actually finds some vocals breaking through the heavy atmosphere for the ass-kickingly dismissive chorus of “don’t call me baby - I’m not yours”. Following in its footsteps is “Green Eyes”, where a minor-key Sleater-Kinney style guitar intro quickly melds with wailing keys to create an air of uneasy menace that still manages to pull the listener in for more. “Ships”, by far the record’s most compelling track, with an intro featuring the kind of spiky guitarwork and heavy bass that would be more at home on Savages’ debut than a fuzz rock record. This murderer’s row lurking in the heart of the record alone makes it an compelling debut.
There are still a number of things that September Girls could work on. I did have a bit of a chuckle at the press kit’s florid descriptions of various songs’ lyrical content because, not unlike the guitars, the vocals are mixed into a hazy middle ground that makes it difficult to draw a distinct bead on them. It’s a neat effect when you’re talking about walls of distortion and tones but it is a little frustrating when your dealing with melodies catchy enough to want to sing along with but too indistinct to actually hear the words. I was intrigued, for example to read that “Sister” deals with “the thorny subject of rape and victim-blaming in society”, a subject that I’d be more than interesting in hearing the band’s reaction to, if only I could actually make out what was being said.
To be fair, there are a few songs that skew close to paint-by-numbers lo-fi indie rock but this is a record that refuses to hew too neatly to expectations. As we near the close, the Girls show us that they don’t spend every night crying in their whiskey on the ecstatically bouncy “Someone New”. This is followed by a series of exercises in rhythm (“Secret Lovers”) and noise (“Sister”) that show that the band is still learning how to stretch its sound and might have more up their all-black sleeves than initially meets the eye. I have to admit that despite the total lack of a lack for yet another fuzzy girl group, I’m more than happy to give September Girls’ next effort a spin to see what those surprises might be.