Belfast’s Girls Names have already released some work on the great Captured Tracks and Slumberland labels and have now moved on to Tough Love for their full-length, Dead to Me. Their sound is a heady mix of shoegaze, lo-fi pop, and 60’s garage, with one foot in the edgy, guitar-heavy musical history of their locality and the other in the world of the girl groups of almost 50 years ago.
Over the past few years, Girls Names have supported acts like Times New Viking, which says something about their production sensibility, which is stripped back and scuzzy, relying heavily on the classic pop setup of drums, bass, guitar, and vocals. Yet there is something different at work, which is in part due to Cathal Cully’s eerie, mournful, direct vocals. At times, they sound like The Jesus and Mary Chain ambling gaily down the street, their beloved on their arm. The record’s lead track, “Lawrence”, is something My Bloody Valentine would be proud of, with its swirling opening that initially threatens to leave you on the outside of their private world, before the heaving guitars bring you back in, bobbing along on a thrilling sea of remembrance.
“When You Cry” begins with a familiar sounding drumbeat, but then the straining, fuzzing guitars make an appearance, and everything begins to sound like a warm, hazy dream, as so much on this record does. They have managed to create something that sounds like an artifact of 60’s pop and simultaneously unbelievably modern, and Cully’s vocals make you pine for those teenage years lolling listlessly on a bed or long summer days where there was nothing to do and happiness was bound up in simple pleasures.
“Nothing More to Say” is all layered vocals and insistent, melodic, lovely guitars, while “I Lose” has that beautiful Wall of Sound drumbeat reworked in an edgier, garage rock vein. Multifaceted gems like “Cut Up” have a deeper, darker, arresting sound that almost flies off the edge, but the melody brings it back, capturing a lightness that defies standing still.
There is a tenderness in something like “Bury Me” and a lilting sorrow in the old-fashioned “Kiss Goodbye” that strangely brings to mind Henry Mancini and the promise of love’s dream, however tattered and painful. The only criticism would be to say that some of it is so familiar: We know this kind of instrumentation, have danced along to the drumbeat, and have nodded in appreciation of the yearning vocals. And yet Girls Names have managed to take all that familiarity and bring it to a mysterious place, where seemingly disparate worlds of innocence, pain, dancing, and dreaming are encouraged and inhabited, taken back to the future.