Around the time that South London’s Goat Girl began work on their sophomore record, their guitarist and vocalist, Ellie Rose Davies was diagnosed with hodgkin lymphoma. While the disease is currently in remission, fighting this malady in her own body while the world struggled to contain the spread of COVID-19, must have felt like an implosion of barriers between the self and the world, where the macro became micro, and the internal erupted into the external. These circumstances did not produce in Goat Girl’s latest album, On All Fours, any greater sense of dread or morbid angst, but rather a bemused frustration. A sentiment that can be boiled down to, “Oh, more of this shit?” A broad recognition that life, and the world, will inevitably pile it on higher and deeper, day after day, without your consent or consultation is certainly a relatable perspective (even for those of us whose bodies are not at present, obnoxiously converting our own blood into poison), and one that certainly influenced the more adventurous direction on which the band embarked for On All Fours.
This new hardwon worldliness is transposed musically into a kind of mixing of the band’s lush post-punk proclivities with folky flare, doses of psychedelia, and trapdoors that lead to cavernous passages of trip hop. The blending of post-punk and wild-eyed, freak lifestyle folk is not new, but in Goat Girls hands, it takes on an element of maturity that is desperately lacking in a sphere of sound that often prizes and encourages a lack of restraint as both an aesthetic and almost moral imperative. If Goat Girl proves anything conclusively on this record, it’s that you can stay both creative and in control.
Opener “Pest” percolates up to ear level with a strummy prickle of acoustic guitar chords that slowly work their way under your skin like a porcupine quill to create an opening in which a hip-swiveling slap of hard RnB grooves and star-jumping cascades can flow. Once the opener has set the tone of the album, “Badibaba” glides into to Stereolab like swirl and a colonoscopic carousel of blaring light and sensation, whose ambivalence of pace and structure beckons your attention to, and investment in, a world of sound that seems to thrive independent of your infatuation with it. The smooth babble of “Jazz (In the Supermakret)” demonstrates the Goat Girl’s influences drawn from Congolese rhythmic percussion, while “P.T.S. Tea” allows a sip of Cat Power’s cool and controlled melodic textures to trickle into and mingle with the band’s hot roil of pop psychedelics to keep it from boiling over as the tempo increase towards the end.
“Sad Cowboy” sadly exists on the farther rim of Goat Girl’s more experimental tendencies, feeling like a roots-rock rendition of a Talking Heads song, fronted by France Gall after having been abducted by aliens who thought her how to harmonize with an AI that communicates exclusively through obtuse, pre-programmed loops on a keyboard, and transitions on the latter half to something like an attempt by Portishead to land a minor Madchester hit. Goat Girl is at their strongest when their sound is at its most fluid, a premise that is proved not only on “Sad Cowboy,” but by the transformative revolutions from new romantic rocker to chamber pop that take place in seductive succession on “The Crack.”
You can stream the entirety of Goat Girl’s On All Four via Bandcamp below: