In a track called “Creep” on Goat Girl’s debut album, singer Clottie Cream — the punkish pseudonym of Lottie Pendlebury — took the role of a woman confronting a leering pervert as he films her on a train. Three years later, the London band’s second album opens with what seems to be a companion piece, “Pest”.
This time, Pendlebury abruptly commands an antagonist to step away from her. “You’re one of those pests,” she sings. But the sense of déjà vu quickly evaporates. The song’s narrative is less clear than “Creep”: it is not obvious who or what the pest is. At the same time, the music is broader in scope and more detailed. Familiarity is offset by a sense of progression. Despite its title, On All Fours marks a confident stride forward.
Formed by school friends in the mid-2010s, the foursome initially came to prominence in indie circles as members of a loose-knit south London scene. The various bands involved, under the delinquent tutelary spirit of Brixton’s Fat White Family, played messy, guitar-driven music. Goat Girl did not just rely on volume, however. Their songs had a surreal edge, a vagrant way of sidling into view. Anger was blended with an anarchic kind of amusement.
On All Fours reunites them with the same producer as before, Dan Carey (Kae Tempest, Fontaines DC). Pendlebury and her bandmates, drummer Rosy Bones (real name Rosy Jones) and guitarist LED (Ellie Rose Davies), are joined by a new bassist Holy Hole (Holly Mullineaux). The songs lack the scrappy energy of the first album. Instead, they are more considered and fluent.
Themes of ruin and rejection recur. “Badibaba” is about the acts of personal disavowal that lie at the root of planetary pollution (“Carry on like we’re protected/As if we’re unaffected”). “The Crack” imagines elect members of humanity chanting songs of worship as they abandon a poisoned Earth for another planet. “Anxiety Feels” submits to feelings of helplessness. “I find it hard sometimes,” Pendlebury repeats in the chorus. Yet the song’s easy flow contradicts its lyrical mood of dejection. The music is a tonic.
This tension is apparent in Pendlebury’s vocals as well. At times she sing-speaks in a deliberately flattened way, the acme of post-punk alienation. But at other times she has a singsong delivery, basic but melodious. Meanwhile, the band’s musical sensibility is more sophisticated than previously.
“I never thought that it would change, I never thought it would stay,” Pendlebury chants in “A-Men”. An uncharacteristic but rewarding soundscape forms around her, with mellow guitar chimes, subtly jangling percussion and a warm synthesiser tone. Many bands stumble at the challenge of staying true to themselves while changing things up when they make their second album. Not so here.
‘On All Fours’ is released by Rough Trade