In the present age of revivalism, a band that possesses lo-fi, garage, and post-punk influences must be in want of something rather special, if their music is to stand out from the throng. And in repurposing a well-known quotation from a ‘classic,’ we reflect something about the curious relationship in which Girls Names stand in the past and in the future. Girls Names are a throwback to particular moments in sonic history, but in the postmodern recombination of influences that has, ironically, become a typical characteristic of contemporary ‘alternative’ music, they hold out an imminent promise that isn’t fully realized in the present. We might think here of the way in which capitalism took the postmodern rejection of the new in its stride, selling it back to us all as the retro alternative. But I don’t want to tar Girls Names with that broad brushstroke per se, except to say that they sound like a lot of bands from both the past and the present. Indeed, if there hadn’t ever been music that sounded like this, or even if we weren’t currently in the midst of a large-scale resurgence of this aesthetic, the album might strike one (okay, me) as quite exciting.
As it is, it’s hard to criticize Dead To Me inasmuch as it’s a pleasant, familiar listening experience, creating not only a nostalgia for the past (specifically the period between the 1960s and 80s), but also, crucially, what Fredric Jameson termed “nostalgia for the present.” But it’s exactly inasmuch as the album provides such an experience that one emerges with a not-quite-satisfied sensation similar to the aftermath of a shopping spree — the promise of joy is inherent in the experience, but that joy itself remains always just out of reach, never completely fulfilled, evanescent. While many of the songs begin as if they will emerge into something really rather glorious, or perhaps rather dark, they never quite live up to that promise while equally never betraying it completely. Girls Names play a spikier version of twee, but the shortcoming of the latter — that one begins to long, masochistically, for something a little more visceral — remains in evidence.
This isn’t to say that Girls Names don’t display any originality, and for those who have a special place in their heart for this kind of sound, no matter its repetitive trajectory, Dead To Me will be an unalloyed pleasure. Alongside the well-trodden garage/indie/lo-fi blend, there are some nifty fifties hints here and there, other moments echoing the sinuous aggro of punk and post-punk, vocals that vary between Sarah tenderness and Ian Curtis gloom, and funkily clumping intros that threaten to emerge as a characteristic sound. In these moments, a pregnant relationship with a possibly fascinating future is forged. But while these various ingredients add up to a great deal of palatability in the present (wherever that is), they don’t quite give us the chemical reaction — the ‘chemistry’ to return to the themes of our amorously-inclined introduction — necessary for the cake to rise. And I’m not entirely sure that eating cake has ever satisfactorily allayed either the enduring spectres of the past, or the desire for a more utopian future.