A possible entry point to figuring out just what it is that the enigmatic Girl Friday are all about may be found in the splendid title of their debut album Androgynous Mary’s opening track: This Is Not The Indie Rock I Signed Up For. It’s a great track title because it seems to tell us so much before we’ve even pressed play. Therein we find a rejection of genre and perhaps a critique of current musical trends, a dry sense of humour, and a sense of grievance at the injustice of having been misled.
Opening with a slow-burning post-punk riff that recalls The Cure, it settles into what seems to be a melancholy verse-chorus pattern, that includes a couple of choice indie and punk references: “I’ve got some fickle friends and I’ve got a bad brain.” But it then veers off into a spikier middle eight with Warpaint-like vocal reaches before breaking down in a clatter of piano and percussion and finally resolving itself with the refrain, “I’m so happy you’re here; I’m so happy you’re with me”. It’s upbeat, in a sense, but it also comes across as a resigned platitude, as if the sonic smorgasbord of the previous three and a half minutes has been turned down to allow for this happy ending.
This magpie-like tendency can be heard throughout Androgynous Mary, which might be simply the sound of a young band negotiating the anxieties of influence, but it could equally stand for an active refusal to settle. Girl Friday have described themselves as ‘genre-confused’, which is perhaps a bit of a stretch since this album feels quite firmly rooted in post-punk and indie rock, but it does reach widely around those genres.
Eaten Thing starts out rather goth – all low register guitar and bass – but ends up sounding grungey. Public Bodies is solidly punk in its verses, but has a big classic rock chorus that calls to mind Bruce Springsteen in its chord changes. The soft rock Clotting comes hot on the heels of the riot grrrl of Earthquake and is then followed by something not far off desert rock in Gold Stars.
But the album is held together partly by the vocals – although the four members of Girl Friday rotate lead vocal duties there are similarities in the timbres of their voices which mean that they could pass as one singer with a strong stylistic range – and also by the fact that it’s very much a guitar album. That makes Androgynous Mary something of an anomaly in the context of contemporary alternative rock: in a landscape where the synthesiser has ruled for some time, there are few noticeable synths here.
More striking still are the lengthy guitar introductions that feature on several of the tracks, such as Eaten Thing’s aforementioned goth intro, and the sweet, echo-drenched riff that begins closing track I Hope Jason Is Happy, acting as a melodic response to the plaintive call that begins This Is Not The Indie Rock I Signed Up For. Some of these openings could potentially have grown into whole other songs; they serve as self-contained introductions or even interludes between tracks, musically not closely related to the songs they lead into.
What We Do It For is a case in point, with a full minute and a half of guitar before the song really gets going. It kicks off with filigree guitar duelling but this soon enough gives way to a sharper riff, underpinned by insistent kick drum, and thence to the post-punk strumming that drives along the song. It’s an unconventional way of constructing a song: Girl Friday are quite clearly on their own path, and all the better for it.