London band Girl Ray returns with Girl; the followup album to their 2017 debut Earl Grey. Looking to expand on the low-fi Twee sound that typified Earl Grey, they’ve switched out their guitars for keyboards, and attempted something more in the vein of contemporary pop music. What remains is the band’s understated sense of humour, especially when delving into the banality of romantic relationships.
The album opens up with the breezy, swirling synths of “Girl,” in which singer and guitarist Poppy Hankin’s breathy vocals detail a young love over some funk-lite guitars. Think of Sleigh Bells at their quietest covering Big Star’s “Thirteen.” The song has a sweet nostalgic quality to it; a yearning for a time when love was easy and stupid. The lyrics wouldn’t feel out of place on Earl Grey, but the music is more up the alley of Ariana Grande’s thank u, next, an album Girl Ray cites as a major factor in their stylistic change. After touring in support of Earl Grey, the band sat down to prep the next batch of songs, but something felt stilted in their standard guitar-primary approach. They began introducing synths and beats and, with their unabashed love for modern pop, the songs began to take a new shape.
Producer Ash Workman certainly adds to this aesthetic. With a resume that includes collaborations with Christine and the Queens, and Metronomy, he adds a similar late-night, vibey feel. The middle portion of the album especially takes a turn for the introspective with the Casio groove of “Because,” and “Let It Go.” The latter features a flute which beautifully mirrors Hankin’s vocal trills.
A big standout for me was “Keep It Tight,” which has Poppy Hankin, Iris McConnell (drums) and Sophie Moss (bass) each taking a verse going through their “shoebox of love problems.” overtop of a slinky late-nineties R&B bass line. The group vocals reinforce the themes of friendship and support, especially during shitty relationships like the ones described in the song. The refrain of, “girl, I’m so in awe of you” acts as almost a Greek Chorus running throughout the song, lending insight to the singer’s character. The whole thing is done with a lot of wit and charm.
As the album closes with “Like The Stars,” the parting sentiments are devotional. Hankin sings “take your time, I’ll hold the line/ Like the stars in the sky.” It’s a beautiful piano- driven track full of small details that seem to only exist in a private world, but are nonetheless relatable. Girl Ray has crafted a great pop album with Girl, but it does not seem suited for a downtown club, or a bar. This is the kind of music that is best played on the dance floors that spontaneously pop up in our friends’ living rooms over cheap wine and take out. It’s not about meeting somebody new, but cherishing those that we already have.
review by David Kandal