The Dublin outfit fka Girl Band’s compelling, magnetic third album is utterly weird, often brutal, and mostly disorientating
In the words of comedy icon Alan Partridge: “they’ve re-badged it, you fool!”. Dublin’s Gilla Band were previously known as Girl Band, a name which some saw as a bit problematic, considering they consisted of four men, with not a woman in sight. So a re-badging, as Alan would put it, was called for.
Last year, the band announced they were changing their name to Gilla Band, acknowledging that it was a ‘mis-gendered name’, and were taking an old Irish slang name instead. The good thing is that’s pretty much the only thing that’s changed about Dara Kiely’s band – Most Normal is their third album and is utterly weird, often brutal, mostly disorientating, and in parts, the most exciting thing you’ll hear all year.
The first few times you listen to it, it may be a bit too deliberately obtuse. The opening track The Gum unleashes a blast of feedback right from the start, together with some rattling, machine-gun like percussion, before a screeching guitar introduces Dara Kiely’s screaming incoherently – and it doesn’t let up for two whole minutes. It’s not so much a welcoming hug but a grab around the throat and a slam into the nearest wall.
If anything, things get even weirder after that. Eight Fivers sees Kiely bemoaning the state of his wardrobe (“I spent my money on shit clothes” runs the refrain) before namechecking Aldi, Debenhams, Spar, Lidl, and pretty much every other shop you can think. Binliner Fashion also deals with clothes, but with lines like “there’s a full stop upon my youth”, the tone seems more serious here.
It’s the sense of orchestrated mayhem that Gilla Band produce that make Most Normal so exciting though. Songs often just stop suddenly, and on Capgras, there’s a barrage of feedback and screaming, before everything goes quiet and Kiely pops up to mumble about small print on a Ryan Air deal – and then, in under a minute, it’s all over and it’s onto the next track.
It’s hard work to be sure, but despite first impressions, there’s a structure to be found on Most Normal. Album centrepiece The Weird has a long drone of a build-up that could almost be described as post-rock before exploding into life, while Backwash is a strange, surreal masterpiece, filled with bizarre imagery such as “he went to the sink and poured Vaseline on a trout” before talking about a Big Brother boxset and shouting “I give dirty looks to people reading books who say they don’t watch cartoons”. It’s not exactly accessible, but you can imagine it causing chaos in a live setting.
Underneath all the audio havoc though, there lies something a bit deeper. Kiely has often talked about his mental health issues and closing track Post Ryan addresses them full on. Again, the music is all over the place – there’s an opening 20 second drone that may make you think your speakers are broken – but the lyrics become almost poignant. “I’m in between breakdowns, constantly in recovery” runs the chorus, before a chanted refrain of “I’m just the same prick”. There’s also a self-aware sense of humour that only endears you more to the band – “I hid behind the surreal, I’m a bit too much… I couldn’t sing for shit, so I shout about crisps”.
Some people will indeed find Most Normal “a bit too much”. The constant barrage of guitar noise and distorted vocals can become exhausting, but those who stick with it will soon find themselves falling for one of the most compelling, magnetic albums of the year.