Any attempt to describe Goat Girl feels like a disservice to them, so the barest must do. They are a London band made up of Lottie Cream (vocals, guitar), L.E.D. (guitar, vocals) Holly Hole (bass, replacing former member Naima Jelly) and Rosy Bones (drums). It’s tempting to define their talent in terms of how young they are (they were signed to Rough Trade Records at just 18), but their output proves impressive for a group of any age. Following their celebrated eponymous debut LP, Goat Girl recorded their new album On All Fours in October 2019. Goat Girl remain just as captivating as they were amid the spiky guitar and haunting harmonies of their first album, but have made incredible strides in just a couple years.
On their sophomore effort, the four-piece deepen their established energy, stretching out songs and keeping up a stirring momentum. Goat Girl’s 19 tracks varied in length from 40 seconds to just under four minutes. On All Fours finds them more confident, giving themselves more room to breathe on tracks but never wasting a second. The frenetic energy that made their debut so memorable is still here and Goat Girl control it with unparalleled skill, always keeping you wanting more. Never is this more apparent than on the single “Sad Cowboy.” Hypnotic synth gives way to twitching cowbell, which is overwhelmed with chugging guitar and eventually replaced by stabs of ‘90s-esque club synths. The momentum ebbs and flows, bending back on itself in a kaleidoscopic way: seemingly unpredictable, but part of some greater design that only Goat Girl understand.
Likewise, the Londoners have kept the spirit of their previous lyrics, concentrating on issues like climate change and mental health, but On All Fours proves more challenging and, ultimately, rewarding than the immediacy of songs on their debut. Take, for example, their penultimate track “Where Do We Go?,” which feels like a spiritual sequel to Goat Girl’s “The Man with No Heart or Brain.” Both document encounters with utterly unpleasant men, a shallow shell of a person in the latter, and a hateful, deceitful man in the former. “The Man with No Heart or Brain” makes it ever-so-clear what’s wrong with this guy: “I once knew a man with no heart, he looked good / But physically he’s not / Had a hole where the heart should be / Making him hate most everybody.”
It’s a bit less obvious what makes the subject of “Where Do We Go?” so awful, but the descriptions are incredibly evocative. Cream sings of “the guilt dripping over his mouth. / Flick of the eye showing the whites, showing the nervous vessels inside,” and later of how “I’m sure it stinks under his skin, where pores secrete all the hate from within.” Just thinking about a person in these terms makes your skin crawl. While there is always a time and place for lines like “Build a bonfire, build a bonfire / Put the Tories on the top” from their first album’s “Burn the Stake” —especially considering what a poor job Boris Johnson and his cronies have done during the pandemic—this new era of songwriting shows that Goat Girl won’t spell things out for you. You have to work to uncover meaning, and in the end it’s more than worthwhile.
One holdover from their debut is the ever-evolving nature of Goat Girl’s sound. The first record saw the band using spoken word, and exploring angular surf and psychedelic rock. On All Fours finds them straying into dream pop, dance and even slight trip-hop territory, but never sticking to one genre or another. And it’s no wonder the band is so difficult to pin down—they cite influences ranging from the experimental Congolese collective KOKOKO! to the surreal, hazy rock of Crumb. “Jazz (In the Supermarket)” is the most otherworldly track of this record, with gorgeous, wordless harmonies soaring above pinging synths, blaring trumpet and viola, buzzing and building to a dramatic climax. On the other end of the scale is the languid sway of “Anxiety Feels,” which lulls you with Cream’s cool, casual vocals and Bones’ lackadaisical percussion. The warm, beachy vibes and swaggering guitar of “Bang” feel reminiscent of ‘90s trip-hop like Portishead and Zero 7. Goat Girl’s nimble navigation of genre demands attention from even the most laidback listener.
A sense of mischievousness pervades On All Fours—you never know which direction the band will take you next—and that feeling captures the overall appeal of Goat Girl. Their continuous growth as a group and playful attitude towards music mean that they’ll never be predictable, and keeping up with them will always be worth the effort.
Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast, hibernophile and contributing writer for Paste’s music and comedy sections. She also exercises her love for reality TV at HelloGiggles every now and then. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.