Girlboy Girl – Forget the Ladder, Climb the Wall

Girlboy Girl
Forget the Ladder, Climb the Wall

You know what they say about first impressions. Well, I’ll admit my first impressions of Girlboy Girl weren’t all that good. Not being a huge fan of off/on/off key singing, imprecise drumming, and generally slack jangle, my initial reaction went something like this: “Sing on key! Sack the drummer! Aaaargh!” and so on. And while I stick to my contention that the indie proclivity for wavering, bleary-eyed vocals ultimately detracts from the overall impact of the music, I also suspected there was a deeper appeal to Girlboy Girl, and repeated listenings confirmed it.
To be fair, each member of GbG’s male and female vocal tag-team suffers from this malady to different degrees. Rupert Taylor has the more distinctive and emotive voice, while Paula Knight’s is a diffident, mousy instrument that sounds like she’s singing from behind a book. Although this initially obscured the fact that the songs are pretty decent, by the third or fourth go “round I began to see past the shortcomings. Clearly these guys would be right at home among the more tame bands on the influential C-86 comp put out by the New Music Express back in the days of yore. The roughly strummed guitars and the pure pop melodies are there, though even among kindred souls I’m afraid Girlboy Girl might sound a bit wan.
Still, there’s nothing wrong with a song like “Don’t Shout” or “Trying,” the latter sounding like a poorly rehearsed Bats motoring along on happy energy and a snappy little guitar melody. It also features a standout lyric nicely detailing a significant other who just doesn’t know when to shut up. Again though, I’d rather hear the Bats sing it.
Really there isn’t a shortage of good songs on this disc. “Ignition” is a plaintive number that I found quite haunting as the two addled vocalists chase each other wondering whether “reading and bathing may stop this craving.” Reading and bathing? Who takes baths? Similarly, “Enjoy Yourself” is a wistful shut-ins lament with a mournful violin that put me in the mood of the Go-Betweens. Like that band, the mature and sadly wise lyrics add to the appeal of the song and Girlboy Girl helpfully provide them in full on their website.
To half-heartedly misquote Yogi Berra, if this is the sorta thing you like, you’ll like this sorta thing. Girlboy Girl certainly can write a song that has both a winning hook and a lyrical gravitas that’s neither too self-pitying nor too arty. That says quite a bit about their skill. I don’t think it would kill them to polish the vocals a bit, nor does it have to sully their obvious respect for the DIY ethic to snare a capable drummer from whomever in Bristol may actually still play the things. But if you insist on doing it your way Girlboy, then go right ahead.