Little Girls | Concepts
Most Likely To: give one a flashback of cleaning tape heads with a Q-tip and rubbing alcohol.
Years ago, I lived about a mile from a high school. On Friday nights in the fall, the sound of the P.A. system at the school’s football field would waft on the breeze to my house, but by the time it got there the announcer’s voice would have slurred into an indecipherable hum. I’m pretty sure that P.A. announcer is the vocalist for the Toronto band Little Girls.
Little Girls mix a shit-hot blend of garage rock and post-punk with lo-fi vocals that sound like someone dug some old Dictaphone tapes up from the bottom of a swamp. In small doses the combination is pretty great. Songs like “Tambourine” and the title track sound like early Joy Division (think Still) if Ian Curtis were delivering his vocals via a can on a string from the top of the Matterhorn in a heavy fog. “Last Call” sounds like a Factory Records-sponsored séance with the voices of dead spirits delivering the lead melody line.
It’s actually pretty damned cool… in the aforementioned small doses. The problem comes when you’ve sat through a whole album of it, and what is an interesting effect on a couple of songs becomes a tiresome gimmick. By the time the listener gets to a song like “Imaginary Friends,” he’s just thinking what a friggin’ juggernaut it would be if Little Girls would finally knock it off with the lo-fi vocals crap. The ominous, Phil Spector-meets-Martin Hannett “Thrills” is especially undermined by what is–by that time on the album–a tedious and grating approach.
There’s definitely something inherently appealing about the lo-fi recording aesthetic. It’s lent an immediacy and off-kilter appeal to the work of people like Robert Pollard for years. It’s easy to understand why Little Girls are so enamored with it, and their mix of instrumental clarity with fuzzed out vocals is an intriguing one. But it’s hard not to think they would be better served if they could strike more of a balance between the clarity and the murk. They don’t need to abandon what seems to be their signature sound, just mix things up every once in a while. For instance, the album closer “Growing” would be a monster if the band cleaned up the vocals on the verses and turned the chorus over to the muffled drone.
God knows that after 50 years of rock & roll it’s not easy for a band to come up with a unique sound. But it’s even harder to come up with great songs. The problem with Little Girls is that they seem to be willing to sacrifice the latter in the pursuit of the former. They’ve delivered an entire album of first-rate material, but then screwed it up by turning the vocals over to a blender set on puree. A little tinkering with that formula would make future Little Girls albums forces to be reckoned with, but for now they seem to be a damn good band determined to hide that fact under a layer of goo.
Watch the video for “Youth Tunes” below: