August 30, 2003

girlboy girl 'forget the ladder, climb the wall"

It wasnít that long ago was Bristolís Mobstar Records was one of the best things going in British underground music. For a time, it seemed as if the roster was single-handedly updating the C86 indie-pop scene for the 1990s. Flagship band the Beatnik Filmstars were doing their own version of the Fall, with double the cynicism and double the hooks. Boyracer was, and still are, a speedier Wedding Present with attention deficit disorder. American transplants Jackass were recreating Slanted and Enchanted-era Pavement. Last but not least, there was Girlboy Girl, who injected a necessary dose of musicianship and singing ability to the music of the Pastels. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. By the time the new millennium began, almost all of these bands had either broken up or were on their way to breaking up. The Filmstars morphed into slow-core band Kyoko (who just recently broke up), Girlboy Girl lost their lead guitarist and drummer and morphed into acoustic duo Hewas, Jackass completely disappeared from sight, and Stewart Anderson had to change both his hemisphere of residence and his entire backing band to bring Boyracer back into existence.

Now, Girlboy Girl comes out of nowhere with a sophomore album that picks up right where their debut album Fresco left off, with fourteen more songs of trebly guitars that operate in two settings (fuzzy and jangly) and shy co-ed vocals that sing of melancholy things in the most plainspoken method imaginable. Opener "Donít Shout" begins with the words "Youíre one of us/Come join the party/and when it suits/Go find your own way/Impossible to stay." This welcoming yet distant attitude permeates the entire record. When guitarist Rupert Taylor and bassist Paula Knight sing of reminiscing over past relationships ("On the Horizon," "Radiator"), they do so without a trace of melodrama. When they sing of screwed-up friends who are completely unable to do right, or even defend themselves ("Trying," "The Worldís a Better Place"), they do so without a trace of bitterness. Girlboy Girlís outlook on life can best be summed up in two songs: the feedback-drenched paean to individuality ("Lake Merritt") and the acoustic paean to solitude and nothingness ("Enjoy Yourself"). "Buildings are just ruins in the making," Rupert sings on "Impermanent." Life generally sucks and people suck too, the band says, so you might as well do your own thing and make the best of it.

On paper, it sounds depressing, but when these sentiments are couched in the sweet harmonies of Rupert and Paula, and decorated with the nimble leads of new guitarist Sean Taplin, theyíre turned into bouncy affirmations. One significant difference between Forget the Ladder, Climb the Wall and Girlboy Girlís debut is that Rupert and Paula sing more songs together now instead of individuality. The "do-do-doís" on "Cabmdhavas en Metten" have a front-porch intimacy that compensates for the lack of immediacy that the album occasionally suffers from. I have to give Boyracer alumnus Matty Green props for sitting in on drums for this record. However, as capable as he is, he isnít nearly as steady or powerful as their previous drummer, Jez Francis. The slight decline in rhythmic dexterity means that Girlboy Girl isnít rocking as hard as they used to. This isnít necessarily a bad thing, though. The songs are definitely good enough to justify the bandís calmer approach. I donít know if Matty and Sean plan on sticking around for the long haul, but hereís hoping they do. We should never have to go three years without hearing another Girlboy Girl record.

---Sean Padilla

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