When Goat Girl released their eponymous debut in 2018, it felt like a really refreshing piece of work. Taking some sounds that had previously been more associated with laddish indie from the likes of The Libertines, Babyshambles, and The Coral they let loose with a set of fiercely feminist and pointedly political tunes that you could really get up and move to. They took umbrage with train perverts, Brexit voters, and, most abrasively, the Tories and the DUP who they wanted to ‘put on a bonfire.’ It was a really heady mix – anger and disillusionment sitting on top of bright and lively indie-pop tunes. Add their live shows to this – shows in which you got to see their amazing musicianship up close (what a drummer!) – and they were surely one of the most exciting acts on the scene. If there was any criticism that might have been aimed at them, I suppose it could be that, over the course of an album with quite a lot of songs, there wasn’t a huge variation in their sound.
So an initial concern when seeing that the new album, On All Fours, clocked in at 20 minutes longer than its predecessor was that, over the course of close to an hour, their singular sound could start to tire. But Goat Girl have done that thing that all good bands hope to do on their second album. They have added to and expanded on their sound while also keeping their clear identity and clinging on to the things that made them so exciting. Album opener ‘Pest’ keeps the acerbic political tone. Opening with an almost poetic diatribe about the state of the world today, you are firmly in Goat Girl territory, but towards the end of that song and bleeding into ‘Badibada’ after it, there is a new use of electronic elements and a seeming desire to draw some of these songs out rather than clipping them in the way they did on LP1. It adds a more rousing, euphoric feel to the songs. It works a treat.
These evolutions are central to so many of the highlights across On All Fours. The hypnotic ‘Jazz (In The Supermarket), energetic single ‘Sad Cowboy’, and the hilarious yet troubling account of another traumatic public transport experience that is told in ‘P.T.S. Tea’ – all of the songs centre of the mix of Goat Girl’s trademark blasé delivery, their chirpy indie sound, and their bleak but brilliant lyrics. But each is added to with a new desire to experiment – to use pulsing electronics to add another element, another aspect of their sound that often seems on the edge of exploding but never quite does. It adds a riveting tension to each of these songs.
Perhaps even more important than the additions to their sound, is the presence of a more personal and intense element in the lyrics and the stories. They were always strong in this area. But in a few of the songs on On All Fours they reach past the pithy, witty, protest-ridden one liners to address what has been a difficult few years for the band outside of the music. As well as watching the world burn during a pandemic and having their political fears reinforced by events that led to the BLM protests, the band had to deal with one of their members going through a very serious and severe bout of illness. While they have thankfully recovered now, the fear this created is all over some of these songs. ‘Anxiety Feels’ takes the most explicit run at this new health anxiety – starting with the line ‘I don’t want to be on these pills’, and then leading us through a song which looks at the terror of having your life upended in this way – it is the most contemplative and honest song Goat Girl have done, and in an album full of energy it is a moving moment of inertia. It is followed directly by ‘They Bite On You’. This is the most snarling and aggressive track on the album, but by turning a tale of having scabies into a full on horror story it again shows a preoccupation with health and the loss of control over your own body. In these songs, Goat Girl elevate themselves to a new level.
So you could say that, in many ways, they have put out the perfect second album. Evolving while maintaining their identity, doubling down on their messages while focusing in more tightly on the things that really matter to them, trying new things but also feeling more cohesive, and adapting to the times and their own personal troubles, they have produced another album that sounds like endless fun on the surface but boils over with meaning once you sit with it for a few listens. Goat Girl continue to tell their grim tales but fill them with more of a sense of freedom, even while they are produced during a lockdown.
Words by Fran Slater.