The overwhelming majority of bands use their debut albums as platforms with which to find their footing. Rarely is a debut album adventurous enough that it sees its creators experimenting with an array of styles; after all, it’s the debut LP which is the precedent by which subsequent efforts are to be measured. It’s bound to pique interest, then, when a debut record is crafted with the confident and audacious attitude of a band multiple albums into their career – London three-piece Girl Ray’s debut, ‘Earl Grey’, is one such album. It’s a record that manages to balance both the unaffected simplicity of the group’s overt classic-pop influence with a broader, more daring attitude which sees the group experiment with both song structure and sonics, leading to an unexpectedly ambitious debut record that, impressively, manages to live up to the weight of its own aspirations.
The band’s previous singles suggested a group with a love of direct, unpretentious songcraft – the eager bounce of ‘Trouble’ (included here as a bonus track) was hook laden and self-contained; a neatly trimmed pop gem that, as satisfying as it was, belied the depth shown on ‘Earl Grey’. While Girl Ray do trade in tightly-written, well arranged indie pop at times here – it’s the winding ambition shown on the group’s longer songs that make their debut genuinely great. The album’s 13 minute title track is perhaps the most grandiose example of the trio’s swelling ambition; although it starts off as a quiet, heart-on-sleeve contemplation, it soon blossoms into something more ineffable – waves of sighing backing vocals crash over snaking bass and humming keys in a psychedelic reverie so well made that its extended run-time flies by. It’s a far cry from the pithier ruminations of the band’s more conventional material but it’s not a dichotomy that ever clashes.
Indeed, the stylistic variety on ‘Earl Grey’ is one of Girl Ray’s real strengths. When the trio break into a funky delirium of tight rhythm guitar and organic percussion at the end of ‘A Few Months’, it’s a wholly unexpected left-turn that takes the song in a drastically new direction. Few bands on their debut outings have the sort of rock solid, robust songwriting that allows for such a varied approach to work, but Girl Ray are assured enough in their own ability that their daring pays off in kind. When the band do turn their attentions away from eclecticism and focus on more conventional songcraft, results are no less satisfying – even if they are a little less unexpected.
A keen sense of melody is key to ‘Earl Grey’s success and a big part of what gives the band their charm. There are razor sharp hooks throughout the album – Girl Ray often base their songs around a riff or hook that serves as a reliable, concrete centrepiece to their songs, keeping them grounded and tangible throughout. The organ riff that courses through ‘Cutting Shapes’ is a guaranteed earworm, the glowing chorus of ‘Stupid Things’ likewise immediately memorable.
Production is understated but effective, lending the record a sense of focus and cajoling the multifarious, somewhat eccentric variety into a surprisingly cohesive whole. Arrangements are generally relatively sparse, the band mostly centring on a fairly true-to-live sound but when overdubs do appear, they’re sensitive to the songs and lend subtle colourisation to the soundscape. Core instrumentation, too, has enough to offer that the album never risks homogenisation. Although Girl Ray could broadly be defined as a guitar band – and there is nice, clean rhythm guitar work throughout the album – numerous piano based songs break proceedings up nicely.
‘Earl Grey’ is a debut that in many ways defies expectations. Whilst those familiar with the band’s early singles would likely have had high hopes for the album, the resultant record is one made with a confidence and creativity only infrequently found on first offerings. Girl Ray have crafted an album that has enough depth to reward repeat listens but that also has enough immediate charm to make the record an instantly appealing proposition. Quirky and off-beat, ‘Earl Grey’ is a great collection of songs and one that most certainly pays back any time invested into it.
‘Earl Grey’ is out on the 4th August 2017. The full track-listing is as follows…
- Just Like That
- Monday Tuesday
- Stupid Things
- Don’t Go Back at Ten
- Cutting Shapes
- A Few Months
- Earl Grey (Stuck in a Groove)
- Where Am I Now
- Stupid Things (reprise)
- Waiting Ages