'Androgynous Mary' Review: Girl Friday blends dystopian post-punk defiance with tints of hope and beauty
The all-girl LA-based quartet admitted they were inspired to create 'really dark, heavy things mashed up with quite beautiful things, whether that be a distorted guitar line and a sentimental vocal or vice versa'
LA-based quartet Girl Friday will be releasing their debut full-length album 'Androgynous Mary' this weekend on August 21 via Hardly Art. Since they had previously released two EPs in 'Tiny Hats' (2017) and 'Fashion Conman' (2019), we had already gotten a glimpse of the group's full potential. Besides Girl Friday's excellent songwriting talents, they also deliver rousing, warped, overdriven post-punk strummers with jangly guitars and tandem vocals courtesy of all four band members.
Guitarist Vera Ellen, bassist Libby Hsieh, drummer Virginia Pettis and guitarist Sierra Scott have certainly been inspired by a rich tradition of influential off-kilter musicians, with deviant alt-rock musings that range from Sonic Youth and Placebo to Hole and the Pixies. There are even hints of Joy Division, Savages, Warpaint, and The Strokes thrown in for good measure on this new album, which can settle into lush and sublime melodies at times and then descend into dark and demented dissonance on other sections.
As Vera Ellen puts it, the band was inspired to create "really dark, heavy things mashed up with quite beautiful things, whether that be a distorted guitar line and a sentimental vocal or vice versa."
Their new album focuses on the twin themes of despair and hope, as the band gives us their personal take on being young, restless and disenfranchised in a nightmarish and daunting 21st century. But the band's defiance and snarling tenacity, as evidenced by their noisy post-punk palette, is also colored by themes of hope, beauty and a resolute will to survive whatever life hurled their way, together as a band.
The close-knit group wrote 'Androgynous Mary' during a year in which each member endured a rough period of personal struggle, and they took solace in each other as members of their own chosen family and community. "It feels so rejuvenating to be there for each other and protect each other," says Libby Hsieh. Ellen adds, "We've definitely been through a lot together, but we've come through it by sticking together and loving each other regardless."
The band has come a long way since meeting up in their heady UCLA college days, and now present a portrait and manifesto for how they intend to wade into the muddy waters of life, hand-in-hand, and with their heads held high.
The album opener, 'This Is Not the Indie Rock I Signed Up For' starts off with an elegant melodic guitar motif, before twinkling keys and understated vocals join the party. "Little burning and little lies / They pull at my hair and tell me what I'm like / I guess I'm losing / This is choosing to be free" go the lyrics, before admitting "We'd never know hell if it wasn't for this / I'm so happy you're here."
The song then reaches an almost avant-garde and intentionally shambolic crescendo after lamenting "How great is your faith if it keeps you up? / How real are your words if you say them on the phone? / A song of solemn that won't be heard /A song of hope that reaches like a curse."
'Amber's Knees (A Matter of Concern)' starts off as an up-tempo, rocking affair akin to a Black Keys singalong, as the chorus declares "Crushed by the why / Crushed by the if / Frightened by the nothing." Things then take an even darker tone as the fuzzy guitars give way to a solemn chant near the end, which intones "Blind me, faithless, in my seat / A graceful fall, a strangled bleat / Maggots dress up in the meat / I eat, I eat, I eat."
There's also a bizarre music video directed by the band, which pays homage to the reality dating show 'Rock of Love with Bret Michaels'. As the girls admitted, "It’s the first song we wrote for the album. It has to do with the borders of culturally sanctioned dissociation and the willful ignorance we often employ to keep things functioning, which manifests differently for everyone. We wanted the video to be an extreme example of this, so naturally, we turned to reality TV for inspiration. However, that initial idea festered into a visual fever dream fueled by our increasingly dystopian waking reality. As life seems to spiral ever further out of our control, we keep ourselves grounded dancing above a greenscreen sea."
Meanwhile on the moody 'Eaten Thing', we're treated to Sonic Youth-esque washes and wails as the lyrics go "How do you quit, how do you win? / I can't keep up your mouth / I guess you'll have to go without / I want to eat you up / Did you think I would be enough?" The song is both atmospheric and gripping in a very Joy Division way, and then enters a call and response dual-vocal section that goes "Covered by my insides / I'm impure and everyone knows." The booming outro section is the highlight of the song, as a thick, bass-heaving guitar line reigns supreme, along with menacing and squalling guitars.
The sonic tension is immediately lifted on the delicate and gorgeous 'Public Bodies', but the existential questions remain. It explores "the idea of being under the foot of somebody else or disadvantaged in some way and trying to push the foot off, get out from under the foot,” says Ellen. "Does the average man feel like he's on the outside?... When I say I'm in pain, they don't believe it" goes the wistful jangle-pop turned raucous punk ode to alienation and growing old in a controlling machine that readily discards you.
"All these bodies 'round here seem to be aging too fast / If you want your independence, then you trade your health for cash / I'm afraid of everything that's passed / All these bodies 'round here have been spat out the machine."
On the reverberant and edgy 'What We Do It For', the girls enquire "Do you love me? Yes? I just love you less." It's a compelling picture of a fraught and loveless relationship, moving from the Interpol-like motifs of the opening section to a much more ferocious gothic punk song, complete with raw distortion and passionate denouncements.
The goth-punk vibe continues into 'Earthquake' which cranks out furious overdriven riffage over lyrics like "Deep in the valley there is a woman / Her petals fading, she’s got a problem / She's crying." We get to the crux of the matter as they girls declare "I just wanna feel like an earthquake / Everything is boring, for f**k’s sake." It perfectly captures the feeling of being “stuck and trapped and wanting to shake things up,” both on an individual and a societal level, says Vera Ellen, and the feminist subtext in the song is also readily apparent.
'Clotting' slows back down to sedate and shimmering tones as the lyrics seem to deal with the healing process after being hurt by love. "I'm exorcising demons like they own me / Well, they own me, and I let them just the same... I hate the way I hate you / No one made you / Stay up with her, give in and walk away" goes the poignant song.
Meanwhile on the stomping and bristling 'Gold Stars', the lyrics delve deeper still into a fraught relationship between two lovers. "Will you rip my gold stars off the wall / If I didn't flinch, would you love me more? / I love you with my words, but they fall out of my head / I wanna fight, but you just see the warmth." Amid the escalating tensions and differing views that are perfectly conveyed by the fevered guitars, the miffed lover declares "I said 'leave,' but you heard 'love.'"
'Favorite Friend' is another looming and moody song, with lines like "My head doesn't fit the crown / Does it matter anymore?" The lushly produced song then goes into interstellar overdrive as the vocals lament "Fickle love and a favorite friend / Said you loved me and I believed you... Take it all in stride / Agony and time."
In the last glorious and euphoric song on the album, "I Hope Jason Is Happy," Girl Friday sing together in unison - "My head is on your chest / In the end, I'll be happy if you do your best / You've got to fight to keep your breath in this world."
This seems to reinforce the Girl Friday's all-conquering missive, that they are more competent and empowered when they tackle the problems of this world with an optimistic and united front, rather than struggling to survive in an increasingly detached society and alienated world as individuals. As for the album title 'Androgynous Mary' which was supposedly inspired by a rather gender-neutral mural of the Virgin Mary that the girls spotted, they knowingly wink and say - "Androgynous Mary is all of us — she lives within you."