September Girls – Cursing the sea (Fortuna Pop!)
Words: Conor O’Toole
Dublin five-piece September Girls seem to have planned the build-up to their debut album very deliberately. Limited edition singles on three small labels in three different countries (Soft Power, Scotland; Matinee, US; Art For Blind, Ireland) were followed by a signing with well-respected UK indie Fortuna Pop! (Crystal Stilts, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Allo Darlin’). This and their Big Star-referencing band name assured a considerable internet buzz; however the strength of their early tunes far outweighed any cheap kudos. I’ve been a big fan of their songs and their sound so far but can they sustain their single-friendly wall of sound over a longer format?
The title track opener lays out their style immediately and thrillingly – fuzzy, back of the room vocals joined by glorious harmonies soaked in reverb, while squally guitars fight it out upfront and a belligerent backbeat keeps things rumbling. In fact the entire first half of the album is packed with short, sharp killer tunes.
‘Another love song’ adds organ to the mix which undercuts the minor-key guitar riff handsomely.
First single from the album ‘Heartbeats’ is a shady, restless melody which gathers fantastic momentum from a bank of backing vocal “oohs”.
There’s a distinctly goth atmosphere about ‘Ships’, still leaving room for another marvellous melody, with even a hint of The Shangri-Las in its spoken sequence.
‘Talking’ is a complete stomper, an organ-heavy sound blur with a nod to Link Wray, over before you know it on a wave of spikily beautiful vocal harmonies.
From this breathless, opening blast, I find myself returning most often to last year’s single ‘Green eyed’ – the organ is again to the fore over trilling (and thrilling) guitars, a great counter vocal adds drama to the chorus while a peachy middle eight breaks things down perfectly, its distorted bass riff threatening to burst the speakers.
The album’s second half doesn’t quite sustain the superb opening. The songs have a slightly less complex, and therefore intriguing, air to them. They are still very serviceable garage pop tunes with highly hummable melodies. A few wholly unexpected influences do creep in as compensation – the chorus of ‘Daylight’ has an 80s, almost MTV air to it, recalling Belinda Carlisle. It’s there briefly before being submerged by murky reverb but it’s a beautiful thing while it rings out. ‘Someone new’ also stands out, a straight-ahead three chord trick sporting some quite astonishing vocal harmonies, plus a hard-to-resist refrain of “hey hey”.
A couple of thoughts to finish. There are more enduring tunes on this debut album than you might safely settle for on a band’s 2nd or 3rd run. The fact that there are four different vocalists contributing songs to the band (although, impressively, with no major difference in sound) no doubt helps the strength and depth of material. You could argue that the coherence of the album is affected a little by the presence of so many previously-released singles, giving something of a compilation feel – although when the singles are this good it’s hard to sustain that argument. If you are coming fresh to this band, on Cursing the sea you will encounter superior songs and quite a few of them.
What’s very pleasing is that the sound and production indicate a band with a clear vision of what they want to be, an aesthetic. The influences clearly reflect a channelling of JAMC and Phil Spector – I don’t have a problem with that. There’s also a certain drawing from the New Wave end of post punk, all of which together gives a gradual sense of transgression and, to be honest, primal rock n roll.
It’s those backbeats, consistently pounding, offbeat and rising up from the roots of trash and garage. It’s a thrilling thing.