It was in the 1950s that a movement amongst certain European playwrights saw the development of “Theatre of the Absurd”. Famously, these were plays that explored the mundaneness of human existence. They focussed on a breakdown of communication – the likes of Beckett and Pinter created funny yet tragic plays with repetitive, seemingly pointless dialogues that were laced with a sense of hopelessness and triviality. Holding Hands With Jamie, the debut album from Dublin’s Girl Band, could be considered in a similar light – there’s an odd lyrical focus on the banal that more often than not ends up drowned in frustrated, fantastic cacophony.
Certainly, there is a sense of mundane absurdity on tracks like ‘Fucking Butter’ when frontman and lyricist Dara Kiely is back from a recent trip to the shop, and expounds: “I try not to boast / I put on my toast / got my bread / and chocolate spread”. There is a charming, nursery-rhyme simplicity to his delivery, though this is quickly undercut by the sonic turmoil that proceeds. Over the course of seven minutes, the track crescendos alarmingly, with that growing sense of despairing repetitiveness finally reaching its climax with Kiely yelling “Nutella, nutella, nutella, nutella” as the yowling, frantic sirens of choppy instruments spiral around him. It’s as harrowing as it is funny, and the track alone is a perfect example of what Girl Band do best.
Indeed, throughout the record the lyrics are often so real that they become surreal – ‘The Last Riddler’ details a bizarre actual visit to the doctor, while in ‘Pears For Lunch’ there’s the blasé, grim honesty of “Spend my time watching Top Gear with my trousers down / covered in Sudocrem and talking to myself”. This serves in part as an insight into Kiely’s mental health at the time of writing, recovering from a breakdown (the build-up to which saw him become maniacally elated). The sheer writhing tension and confusion that underpins the entire record seems to encapsulate this context – and yet, there remains a refreshing lightheartedness to the album; a decided unpretentiousness. There’s a lot to be said on it being an album about food, especially with the distinctly Irish reference in ‘Paul’ to a “homemade” 3-in-1 – a delicacy found in Ireland’s Chinese restaurants, consisting of chips, rice and – generally speaking – curry sauce.
The impact of the lyrics would be nothing without the musicianship. Girl Band make manic, tumultuous noise that is intensely, thrillingly chaotic. The record almost constantly sounds like an adrenaline rush or a whirring machine on the brink of meltdown. The rhythm section of Daniel Fox (bass) and Adam Faulkner (drums) gives them that breathless, invigorating techno undercurrent that they first experimented with properly for their Blawan cover, and that sound has been further honed for the album, becoming dizzyingly enthralling. In fact, guitarist Alan Duggan sounds as much a part of the rhythm as he does melody, driving the songs along with angular, razor-sharp reverb. It’s not all abrasive, distorted noise though – there are thoughtful pauses to be found in the mechanical waltz of ‘In Plastic’ and the oddly sweet ‘Texting an Alien’.
The latter opens with the line “At the minute I’m throwing biscuits down O’Connell Street / It’s pointless and I don’t know why I’m doing it to be honest”, and that perhaps sums up the album. It is a record full of all things absurdist – frustrated, hopeless, silly, terrified. It is not a comfortable listen, and that’s what’s so great about it. Intoxicating, energised and entirely unlike anything else right now, this is easily one of the best, most exciting albums you’ll hear this year.