Belfast, Northern Ireland is supposed to be a rejuvenated city, as the not-so-distant past of sectarian strife gives way to a brighter future of economic growth, affluence, tourism and hope. Album title aside, one would not necessarily come away with this impression after listening to Girls Names’ sophomore effort, The New Life. The Belfast-based four-piece thrives on looking to its post-punk forefathers for inspiration—specifically The Cure circa Seventeen Seconds, The Smiths’ first album and Movement-era New Order. The band offers its own updated take on these sounds, but one can’t help but think of these great albums past when listening to the spindly, lithe basslines, chorus-laden guitar strumming, eerie background synths, crisp snare hits and morose vocals that comprise much of The New Life. In other words, the album is a fairly dreary affair.
For Girls Names, a sprite, upbeat moment tends to sound somewhat troubled. On “A Second Skin,” a plucked guitar melody dances above tremolo-infused chords and a counterpoint bassline—all the makings of a good pop song. Of course, the key is decidedly minor and Cathel Cutty’s vocals are sullen and ghostly, bringing the whole affair down from outright catchiness. The album’s first single, “Pittura Infamante,” starts off like the beginning of The Stone Roses’ “I Wanna Be Adored,” with a bassline that will repeat throughout the course of the five minutes. This is soon joined by a jaunty chord progression that sounds like Robert Smith’s guitar work from “A Play For Today,” and then Cutty’s vocals float in, once again keeping any ounce of joy from seeping in. Dark doesn’t necessarily mean restrained here, however, and the band does get noisy over the final minutes of the album’s title track, bringing the record to a close with waves of screeching feedback over a hypnotically repeated groove.
Make no mistake: all this talk of Girls Names’ gloominess is not really a criticism. After all, throughout the history of music, some of the best bands have trafficked in the dour. Girls Names aren’t exactly doing goth, even though the band is clearly influenced by some of that movement’s progenitors. What the band is doing is creating a unique template of dark, post-punk, garage-y rock, often controlled and sometimes unleashed, that marks The New Life as one of the better albums released so far this year.