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Goat Girl: Below The Waste – Album Review | Louder Than War


Goat Girl: Below The Waste

(Rough Trade)

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Goat Girl: Below The Waste – Album Review

 

Goat Girl release Below The Waste: a dark, ambitious new album full of surprising twists and turns. Andy Brown shares his thoughts for Louder Than War.

It’s hard to believe that Goat Girl’s debut single – Country Sleaze – was released over seven years ago in 2016. Signed to the iconic Rough Trade label, the group arrived with a Bill Hicks inspired moniker, a singer called Clottie Cream and a snarling sound infused with suitably sleazy thrills. The single piqued my interest while the proceeding self-titled debut album and some brilliant live performances sealed the deal. In a world of beige, the London-based band were bringing a little excitement to the sometimes-stagnant indie-rock/ post-punk scene. Packing a Bugsy Malone cover for good measure, tomorrow truly belonged to Goat Girl. Keeping us on our toes, they followed up their debut with the impressively eclectic, anxiety-ridden psych of On All Fours. Three and a half years later and the band return with Below The Waste.

With the unexpected departure of guitarist Ellie Rose Davies due to health issues, the band set about recording and co-producing the album as a trio with John ‘Spud’ Murphy at Hellfire Studios in Dublin. Murphy’s numerous achievements include working on Lankum’s highly acclaimed album of experimental folk, False Lankum. Add a string section, a little woodwind and a people’s choir comprised of family and friends and you’ve got a tasty recipe for Goat Girl’s long-awaited third LP. With the pandemic, Davies’ sickness and drummer Rosy Jones’ experiences with addiction and recovery, the band had a lot to channel into their new album. The end result is a beautifully atmospheric LP suffused with emotion and late-night intrigue. The trio have driven through the darkness and emerged with their most satisfyingly immersive offering to date.

Lottie Pendlebury (aka Clottie Cream), Rosy Jones and Holly Mullineaux all contribute an array of instrumentation to the albums rich patchwork including violin, banjo, mellotron, organ, piano and Taishōgoto. That last one is a Japanese instrument also known as a Nagoya harp. Swirl in some bass, percussion, drums and post-hardcore inspired guitar and the album begins to take shape. I’ve loved everything the band have released yet nothing has pulled me under its spell quite like Below The Waste. Country Sleaze and Scum were songs to blast before a night out while the music here is perhaps best absorbed on a night in with your phone on silent. We begin with the distant birdsong, serene harmonies and droning ambience of Reprise. The album sits in a liminal space somewhere between sunset and the velvety blackness of night. The place just before dreams or nightmares take hold.

Ride Around bristles with invention as we’re guided through the song’s seamless stages of sonic metamorphosis. Grungy minimalism, a cascading jazzy interlude and an unexpectedly euphoric, string accompanied conclusion. Pendlebury has been listening to a lot of Phillip Glass and Deerhoof and that sense of freedom and experimentation has certainly found its way into the album. Words Fell Out is a gorgeous piece of melancholic dream pop instilled with longing and regret. The bass line and Pendlebury’s voice induce a hypnotic, dreamlike state. You can already tell that the band have created something rather special.

Play It Down sucks us further in with a brooding mix of synths, hooks and harmonies. There’s a brief moment at the end of the track when we hear the band laughing. Yes, Below The Waste is a dark album in many ways but Goat Girl haven’t lost their sense of humour. The album title itself comes from a post-shower interaction between Jones and Mullineaux where the latter described herself as being, naked from below the waist. I always enjoy a good pun. The Jones sung TCNC is the point in the album where you know that nothing is off the table. The point of no return, if you will. A wild mix of pounding drums, throbbing noise and enthusiastic shouting. The letters stand for Take Care Not Crack and are taken from a comment made by Jones’ Mum. It’s one of the boldest things here and I love it.

This leads into the entrancing, troubled groove of Where UR <3. This isn’t a record tied to the tyranny of verse-chorus-verse, the band preferring to immerse us in constantly evolving soundscapes. There are so many subtle, sonic fragments on the album that I’d urge you to listen with a pair of headphones. Pendlebury’s vocals have never sounded better, whispering and pining as we drift through the otherworldly woodlands portrayed on the albums cover. The 23 second Prelude leads into the sublime Tonight. The track moves from lonesome acoustic reflections into an understated, late-night hymnal. Close your eyes and you can practically see the glow of a campfire and the star speckled sky.

Throughout its generous 48-minute runtime, Below The Waste is full of surprising twists and turns. Motorway is a neon-lit electro pop gem while Take It Away is a heart wrenching piano ballad sung by Mullineaux. S.M.O.G sits between the two tracks as brief, decidedly dreamy interlude. It really feels like the band could go anywhere they wanted to at this point. Pretty Faces leans into a folky influence with disarmingly beautiful results. It’s just over two minutes long and contains a sense of loss and magic that I can’t quite describe. Perhaps gradually lures us in as a distinctly ominous undertow threatens to pull us under. A little bit of Slint and Low in its DNA. It’s impressive, hair-raising stuff. Jump Sludge is a wonderfully skewed, experimental instrumental. I like to think the band were watching Koyaanisqatsi when they came up with those harmonies.

The penultimate track, Sleep Talk, hits us with a tidal wave of synths, whispered words and dramatic, gothy guitars. “No need to speak/ Know what you mean” sings Pendlebury as we lose ourselves on the long walk home. Clocking in at just over six minutes, Wasting provides the album with a suitably epic conclusion. Droning fuzz, serene interludes and layers of sound that simply ooze atmosphere. A distant saxophone comes in towards the end as we float steadily into the night.

The band have come a long way since they first appeared and it’s been an absolute pleasure to hear them evolve. I’m reluctant to use the word mature as it conjures images of big jumpers and bland music but the album is mature in the best possible way. Ambitious, accomplished and interesting in a way that ensures you’ll be drawn into its web again and again. Below The Waste feels like a late-night drive into Goat Girl’s collective psyche: a dark, inventive and endlessly intriguing terrain.

~

Goat Girl can be found on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter/ X and Bandcamp.

All words by Andy Brown. You can visit his author profile and read more of his reviews for Louder Than War here.

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