Yellow, orange, red: Goat Girl’s photo shoot palette for ‘On All Fours’ is deliberate – colours of fierce joy that also bring out the band’s incendiary nature. But the follow-up to their charged debut sees the same issues – political, mental, environmental – filtered through a tempered, almost kaleidoscopic lens: an elaborate yet tight exchange of sound and emotion.
Spawned from the same south London scene as the likes of Fat White Family, Shame, and Black Midi, Goat Girl are no less upfront and plucky than their male counterparts – and completely unafraid to be themselves. Their eponymous 2018 debut album flaunted both politics and play, on nineteen tracks of creative, instrumental indulgence.
‘On All Fours’ doesn’t totally rewrite the book, but there’s a new concision to Goat Girl’s sound, an urgency that stems from personal as well as global upheaval: one band member is in remission from a serious cancer diagnosis. Confronted with mortality in very real ways, on ‘On All Fours’ Goat Girl double down to address the rising stakes of being human.
The record’s offbeat electronica is a welcome counter to the psychedelic whims of ‘Goat Girl’, but the band’s earlier sound is never far away: for example, trumpet and viola lead ‘Jazz In The Supermarket’ astray via the warped bass of Lou Reed’s ‘Walk On The Wild Side’. Nor have Goat Girl abandoned their playfulness. ‘P.T.S.Tea’ sounds like you just crossed the finish line on Mario Kart, though the song deals with a far more serious incident of homophobia and hot water. The album lifts with ‘Sad Cowboy’, but the track doesn’t fully capitalise on its opening – a sequinned synth line that would make Pet Shop Boys jealous.
Despite the choppy pop tempos, lead singer Lottie Pendlebury’s languid harmonies could sink you into lethargy. But that might be like mistaking Lou Reed’s disaffected drawl for a lack of fury. And like Lou, Goat Girl clearly find plenty to be furious about: climate change, sexism, attitudes towards mental health and sexuality, eyes that turn away from social injustice. Without this political focus, their sound would lose much of its vitality. The songs move with ease between poetic – “Flick of the eye showing the whites, showing the nervous vessels inside” – and bluntly honest – “I don’t wanna be on those pills / I think they numb the way you feel”. But Goat Girl reach their pithy, lyrical best on ‘The Crack’, a song that tackles the environmental crisis: “The crack was singing protest songs / The people wouldn’t listen, they didn’t care / They were singing worship songs.”
Goat Girl offer no shiny breezy hallelujah outta here, nor an impulsive volley of rage. Instead they hunker down in the middle of the swamp and take stock – of political anger, pandemic stupor, and warped reality. In a recent interview Pendlebury explained how the band “strive to create some kind of change in society; obviously we’re all trying our best, but it’s not really enough.” ‘On All Fours’ doesn’t fix that feeling of ‘not enough’, but it doesn’t shy away from the current mood, either. You have to let yourself feel the sting, the fear, the apathy – and then you react accordingly.
‘On All Fours’ by Goat Girl is out now. Listen to the album in full with an exclusive track-by-track breakdown by Goat Girl’s, Clottie Cream, in this episode of Sleeve Notes.