One of the delights of Goat Girl‘s eponymous 2018 debut was the melodically laconic voice of guitarist and vocalist Lottie “Clottie Cream” Pendlebury. She could repeat, “I really want to smash your head”, with the same languid cool she uses to say, “You’re the man for me.” Lyrically, there are acknowledgments of unease, pain, violence, and awareness of fitting in disguised as not caring running throughout that album. There are also odd instrumental interludes, fading from one track into the next, making the record a delightful, shambling mess that whinnies and kicks at the stables of whatever indie-rock is.
However, anyone who loved that record and waited for another like it might be slightly shocked upon first hearing On All Fours. This is not a negative observation; in fact, unless you’re referencing AC/DC, there’s an assumption that artists use records as statements of progress. One could argue these changes are connected to Mercury Prize-nominated South Londoner Dan Cary’s production, but then he was at the helm for the debut as well. Yet, Cary adds a bed of synthesizers here, tempering the guitars and draining On All Fours of some homemade qualities that made the debut breathe. His presence looms large at times too.
Play “The Crack” for anyone well-versed in the band’s other album, and they might not realize it was the same formally, guitar-centric group. Keyboards engulf the hook at the bridge, giving the song a jarring gloss. It’s hard not to discern a bit of Stereolab here and there too. “Closing In” is danceable pop, and Pendlebury’s flat delivery certainly sounds more than a bit like Laetitia Sadier. “Once Again” contains the kind of vocal counter-melody that Stereolab was infamous for, especially when Mary Hansen was in the band. But listen again, and you’ll hear another connection — to Goat Girl’s debut — suggesting this record has put the band’s voices in starker relief.
Lyrically, not an ounce of the first record’s half-hidden edge has been lost. “Pest” has the brilliant line, “I have no shame when I say / Step the fuck away.” The song is ambiguous; is it about someone they know? Or perhaps “one of those pests from the west” refers to western cultural hegemony. (I’m betting it’s the latter, but I also appreciate the lack of preachiness that will radically extend this song’s shelf life.) The seemingly breezy “Anxiety Feels” nearly cloaks detachment in a chorus of singalong “na na na’s”, but keep listening and hear Pendlebury repeat, “I don’t wanna be on those pills / I heard they make you numb.” Elsewhere, it’s difficult not to connect “Badibada’s” words to the pandemic and the human propensity to fruitlessly bury our waste, wrecking everything else in the process.
So, what we have here are some hazy but deeply unsettling observations, carried along effortlessly on a bed of delirious voices, sailing over music quieter, slicker, and tighter than that on Goat Girl’s debut. One might look at this as the necessary balance required to carry the heavier scrutiny these young women possess after bearing witness to our current mess of a moment from their South London stomping grounds. But let’s face it, growing up right now is tough, and the world has been through hell. That said, it’s amazing how gorgeous a record On All Fours is.