Text: Paul van der Zalm

As a city kid, you are used to the tough life and you grow up just a bit faster than in a protected environment. In that sense, it was not surprising that Goat Girl released such a mature debut album in 2016, despite their age of just 20. After all, the band emerged from the scene around the Windmill in Brixton, South London, with friendly bands like Shame, HMLTD and Black Midi. The low voice of singer Lottie Pendlebury AKA Clottie Cream might confuse you about the age of the band. But all in all, the album still had the nonchalance of a group of cheerful friends with little to lose. 

In the meantime, a lot has changed and the band has lost its innocence. Most dramatically, guitarist/vocalist Ellie Rose Davies was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease while finishing ‘On All Fours’, the new album that comes out today. There was also the departure of Naima Redina-Bock and the arrival of Holly Mullineaux as the new bassist. Add to that the corona pandemic that followed (and made Rose Davies extra vulnerable), the soap opera around brexit, the death of George Floyd in America, the climate issue or someone who throws hot tea over you without apology. Reality cannot get much more surreal and the album seems to be the reflection of the unimaginable.

Opening track ‘Plague’ can of course be seen as a direct reference to corona or other diseases. Remarkable is that it consists of a slow part, followed by a faster version. After this we hear the most recent single ‘Badibaba’, an environmental protest song with a bass loop as an intro, but with a grim ending and the lyrics ‘Leave All Sadness Underground’ which can also be interpreted in a more broad context. ‘The Crack’ also seems to be a reaction to our relationship with nature, but these lyrics are more mysterious. Unlike the other tracks, this one has a solid intro and a pounding beat (by Rosy Jones on drums). The first released song ‘Sad Cowboy’, for example, is much more danceable with the use of electronics and it sounds like Pumarosa.

What the singles have in common is that they are all accompanied by a surrealistic video. On most of the songs on this album, the thoughtful vocal arrangements again stand out. One of the best examples of this is the canon song at the end of P.T.S. Tea (about the tea incident). On the other hand, there is the sound of distorted guitars. Despite the dark themes and clear titles like ‘Closing in’, ‘Anxiety Feels’ and ‘They Bite On You’, the music is rather playful and open. Maybe that is the work of Dan Carey (Kae Tempest, Black Midi and Franz Ferdinand) who also produced this album. Most light-hearted is the almost entirely instrumental ‘Jazz (In The Supermarket)’ with the great text ‘woooooaaaah’. 

In the stormy second to last track, Goat Girl finally asks the question ‘Where Do We Go From Here?’. The answer may lie in the alternative closing prayer ‘A-men’ embedded in bright guitar sounds: ‘Bless God, He Tries’. The beautiful long outro that follows feels like a cliffhanger…

Rough Trade