South London-based quartet Goat Girl is not here to have an easy time. The group’s self-titled debut is 19 tracks long and packed full of being fed up. Over the course of Goat Girl, the band throws punch after punch, laying out blunt takedowns of city façades and the slimy characters that creep in their shadows. There’s a messiness to the album, a patchwork of songs so unpolished that it can be hard to tell what is meant to serve as interlude and what is meant to be taken as a standalone song – and that’s as it should be. The world of Goat Girl is one entirely too real to be polished.
After the haunting loops of opening instrumental “Salty Sounds”, frontwoman Clottie Cream opens “Burn the Stake” with a disaffected dismissal of “filthy fakes”. Her Cat Power-esque coolness, though, is a deceptive one, giving way to louder, longer cries echoing against a sludge of electric strings. It quickly becomes clear that, for all its lo-fi qualities, this is a band with finely-honed musicianship, one that knows how to make meaningful sonic impact. “Creep” demonstrates this and the group’s versatility, as nimble violins and hard-hitting drums join an understated bassline to express the frustration and stress caused by the titular creep, a lecherous commuter. The lyrics scorn him directly: “Creep on the train / I really want to smash your head in.”
Immediately following “Creep” is “Viper Fish”, a dance song for something significantly edgier than homecoming. The chorus is oddly catchy for its darkness: “Don’t shed a tear / We all feel shame / We all feel shame.” Juxtapositions of strong hooks and pessimism are nothing new in the world of rock and roll, but Goat Girl has a knack for making them sound organic – not like ironic combinations of opposites, but like inseparable elements in a very real whole, all of life’s coexisting contradictions represented in music.
That’s not to say that all Goat Girl has to offer is urban gloom. “The Man” provides a much-needed respite from jaded spells of observation with hedonistic guitar riffs and hits of tambourine, serving up shades of the Kinks with a simple, singable chorus: “You’re the man / You’re the man / You’re the man for me.” Quick, dirty, and with a retro swing, it picks up the album’s mood without forsaking Goat Girl’s grit. Even more exuberant is devil-may-care rocker “Country Sleaze”, a raunchy early single. It’s saloon-ready, filthy with outlaw guitars and rejoicing in its own earthiness. Both tracks prove that Goat Girl is perfectly capable of bringing the good vibes, but they sure aren’t going to be clean ones.
The album closes with “Tomorrow”, a ballad with a tender, almost dreamy touch. “I was born to be a dancer,” goes the chorus, “I won’t take no for an answer.” The weight in Clottie Cream’s voice belies the tetrametric whimsy, sweet melancholy to counterbalance and close a high-energy record. It’s one final display of how Goat Girl the album, for its chaos and often mismatched layers, is an album that shows a well-developed skill set, and how Goat Girl the band has more to it than initially meets the ear.