Gutsy, calculated and confident
Charlotte Marston
10:53 28th January 2021

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Notoriously, sophomore albums meet one of two fates. On the one hand, artists follow a meticulously mapped out trajectory for success, riding the debut record high and emerging with a beguiling sense of sophistication. On the other, momentum isn’t quite upheld, and dull sonic blunders fall limply on unwilling ears. And, with a debut as shrewd as Goat Girl’s, the latter is usually how the story plays out. 

But, On All Fours bucks the trend. Goat Girl— joined by Speedy Wunderground’s Dan Carey (Fontaines D.C., black midi, Franz Ferdinand)— have carved a more self-assured path that combines a fresh sonic dialect with the same stylistic absurdity of their self-titled debut. Stepping back from the confrontational, loud-mouthed personas they donned three years ago, the foursome turn to more existential issues. Picking apart the very fabric of the world around them— from mental wellbeing to humanitarianism, social injustice to the climate crisis— the band’s discordant melodies are fit-to-burst with all the raw emotion of four young people whose rose-tinted glasses have lost their sheen. 

Welcoming us to their newly cultivated— and only slightly infernal— garden, opener ‘Pest’ blisters under the surface like a perennial weed. As unsettling as its namesake, the track’s lo-fi melodies rest on the edge of a lurking precipice, and buzzing synths threaten to drag us over the edge.

‘Badibaba’ isn’t any less anxiety-inducing. It’s a hellscape— in the most endearing sense of the word— as quintessential post-punk beats descend into a queasy cacophony. Whirling sci-fi synths meet swarming sax beats and meticulous stop-start rhythms create a distinct air of seasickness. For a scathing condemnation of the global marine pollution problem, it hits the spot. 

Despite their maturing vision Goat Girl refuse to forgo their trademark sharp wit, and ‘P.T.S Tea’ provides a brief respite from the hard-hitting discordance chucked our way in the opening moments of the record. The track is unsettlingly feel-good, as a jazzy, feverish intro (think Hairspray meets Play Your Cards Right) cascades into a steady tussle of grooving percussion. 

At the dawn of this new chapter,  it seems it isn’t just Goat Girl’s perspective that has shifted: at times this blossoming new sonic macrocosm feels worlds away from the foursome’s guttural, guitar-laden debut. ‘Sad Cowboy’— an effortlessly cool, five-minute-long ditty— is one such moment. Dystopian synthesisers reverberate amidst escalating guitar licks, and the band have clearly inherited a taste for the electro-driven sounds of some of their post-punk peers. Artificial rhythms don’t stand front and centre, but electronic bursts pepper the record in a self-assured step towards the experimental.

And, over the album’s thirteen track span, Goat Girl don all manner of musical personas. From plucky grunge-infused commotion to soothing, lo-fi chorales and synth-soaked sci-fi soundscapes, the record's unpredictability is all part of its whirlwind charm. Take ‘The Crack,’ the shortest of On All Fours’ lengthy offerings. It’s a gritty, all-consuming tirade and an angsty antithesis to what lies before. As menacing guitar licks compete with looping drum machine blows, prophetic lyrics— “cracks form where the earth’s torn… the people wouldn’t listen, they didn’t care”— paint an unsettling picture of a world so unwilling to fix its own mistakes that abandoning ship seems like the only option. 

Undergoing another sonic quick-change, ‘Closing In’ is the nearest we get to a feel-good anthem, with percussive earworm melodies wriggling against a grooving instrumental abyss. Lottie Cream’s vocals— as sensuous and blasé as ever— take a backseat, as boinging guitar licks and disorientating drum beats emerge centre stage. It’s raucously playful, with an intricate percussive landscape that doesn’t sound a million miles away from an unruly primary school music lesson.

After dragging us through the wringer, ‘A-Men’ feels like a nice place to get off the nightmarish On All Fours merry-go-round. Toning things down a notch, the calamitous closer is a lo-fi infused slow-burn, with all of the record’s sci-fi theatricalities stripped away. The track feels a little bit like being the last man standing in a dodgy club on a Saturday night, when most of your mates have gone home and the DJ shoves on a long-forgotten but somewhat familiar ballad. Eerily reminiscent of an off-kilter 4am singalong with drunken strangers on a sticky dance-floor, intoxicated melodies are carried by garbled, off-beat vocals, and the effect is deliriously conclusive.

On All Fours is gutsy. It’s calculated. It’s confident. At times, it’s slightly cryptic. It’s a well ripened sequel to a discerning debut, packed out with a careering unpredictability that demands to be heard when it would be easier not to listen.

On All Fours arrives 29 January via Rough Trade Records.

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