Review: Goat Girl On Rough Trade
In an interview last year, Goat Girl’s guitarist L.E.D. said: “There’s a teenage angst in our songs, but I think that was inevitable growing up in London over the last 10 years.” Time and place have always acted as a springboard for musicians; a gelatinous base used to tie disparate ideas. But for Goat Girl there’s a sense that context continuously moulds their shared outlook, providing shading and texture to their music. After all, this is the band that signed their record contract with Rough Trade on the day Britain’s divided masses celebrated and decried the Brexit result in equal measure. The timbre of contemporary culture is coded into their DNA.
It seems apt then that Goat Girl’s defining attribute is a sharp-tongued violence in the face of static patriarchal institutions, often sang with a sardonic sweetness. Their ability to switch from abject apathy, as on the laconic ‘I Don’t Care Pt.1’ (and the ennui of its sibling ‘I Don’t Care Pt. 2), to the simmering rage of ‘Burn the Stake’ provides valuable insight into reality as perceived by the band and their peers. After all, nothing suggests a repressed well of exasperation more than someone persistently telling you they don’t care. If the cool remove of capitalism breeds indifference, it simultaneously breeds a targetless anger — that unscratched itch is tangible throughout Goat Girl’s self-titled debut LP.
Accordingly, the picture of reality as painted by Goat Girl is rife with sordid characters and well-meaning buffoons. On the oddly beautiful ‘Creep’, singer Clottie Cream — each band member has their own pseudonym — sketches a visceral response to a “Creep on the train / With his dirty trouser stain”, repeatedly emphasising her desire in simple terms: “I want to smash your head in”. Elsewhere on ‘Throw Me a Bone’, Clottie warns a potential appeaser “If you throw me a bone / Then I'll throw back a sharp stone”. The completely detached delivery of such violent acts speak to the band’s exhaustion at being pandered to. What were once threats, are now statements of fact.
Despite the album being 19 tracks long, Goat Girl thankfully exercise a degree of economy in their songwriting, creating fleeting melodies that simultaneously succeed in feeling fleshed out. Given the extended song count fears of repetition and muddiness are justified, but with the average track clocking in at a brisk 2 minutes, there’s room for a plethora of ideas to be seeded without ever overstaying their welcome. By touching on acts of oppression both mundane and specifically individual, whilst consistently shifting the terms of their post-punk palette, the group never let any one note rest on the tongue too long.
In many way it’s difficult to critique Goat Girl. Even on the record’s more forgettable tracks, there’s a driving purpose that shines through each and every chord. Of course, intention alone doesn’t qualify art as accomplished, but it does provide a reliable framework for its cohesive creation. An argument could be made for a relative lack of formal invention, but the span of influences on this album is extensive, and their incorporation largely effective, if subtle. At various points vocal harmonies drift in and out of sight, fiddles creep around the outskirts, and husky poets pop up over slightly nauseating hip-hop loops. It might not always be bold, but it’s certainly always striking.
Whilst the tone of the record is undeniably dour, there’s still a dry humour laced throughout, ensuring a greater depth than would be afforded by simple cynicism. Despite depicting London as a shallow, suffocating, navel-gazing city, they also convey a disappointment in the place that birthed them, rather than just anger. Goat Girl don’t want to raze London to the ground, they want to pushing it forwards; be that culturally, politically, or socially. The repeated couplet found in ‘Viper Fish’, “Find an antidote for this accumulating smoke / Find an antidote for this accumulating smoke” provides the kernel of hope at the record’s core. These two lines communicate a tempered belief that there could be a solution to society’s ills; through their music, perhaps Goat Girl can be part of it.