On All Fours is the sophomore album from the London-based, all-women, post-Punk band Goat Girl, released Jan. 29. The follow-up to their self-titled debut in 2018, this album has been a long time coming ever since, and is the first showing of their new bassist, Holly Hole, following the departure of Naima Jelly.
While Goat Girl is known for their harder Rock and Punk influences, they really focused on experimentation in this project, adding plucked synths and leads that become more and more common throughout the album, as well as occasionally introducing a horn and string section. I don’t know if I can call this post-Punk instead of a more fitting alt or experimental Rock label, but I do know this is one of the best albums I’ve listened to in a long while, and was definitely worth the three-year wait.
The project moves through several semi-coherent sections throughout, starting with climate change and the apathy most willingly hold toward it. The first two songs, “Pest” and “Badibaba,” take two different perspectives on this. “Pest” serves as a solid, simple introduction while rightly criticizing the West and western citizens for their greed and near-sightedness, while “Badibaba” looks into the stupidity of being apathetic toward a reality on fire, as people close their eyes and confidently march into their own destruction. This song also serves as a good introduction to Goat Girl’s signature sound: disorientation. Throughout their discography, they are well known for a sound feeling like a pure representation of confusion, derealization, cynicism, and, at times, an out-of-body-experience sort of vibe. “Badibaba” is no exception; with twangy guitars that almost sound out of tune and a creepy backtracking, it does a great job at giving the atmosphere of almost a nightmare.
Next up is “Jazz (in the Supermarket),” an almost entirely instrumental track featuring a marching beat, horns playing just out of sync, and an echoed and reverberated ambiance. This song apparently came to be in a jam session, without a whole lot of planning, but still gives the image of someone spinning way too fast and needing to sit down before they fall down. Following this is “Once Again,” with another marching-esque rhythm in the chorus, tempo changes, and cryptic lyrics. I personally can’t even understand what she’s singing about, to be honest, but with lyrics, like “walls move around my head / to spite their rigidness” and “the place we go to / one by one / stuck out of motion / ‘til the sun drums,” this song definitely gives off an impression of a torturous, yet almost ethereal experience.
Coming after this is the first upbeat sounding song on the project, the aptly-titled “P.T.S.Tea.” This was inspired by a man rudely spilling an entire cup of scalding tea on drummer Rosy Bones, leaving her burned for weeks, without as much as batting an eye or saying a word. The song then goes on to air grievances against obnoxious and psychopathic men in general, and how their interactions in public always go horribly.
Afterwards is “Sad Cowboy,” arguably the most popular song off On All Fours. This song is, quite literally, about depersonalization and slowly losing your mind to the world, subject matter quite up Goat Girl’s alley. This song especially sticks out for the choice of instruments; it’s almost entirely led by very ‘80s-sounding keyboards, and gives the atmosphere of a futuristic city’s night sky. It’s something I could see being played to Tron or Cyberpunk 2077.
Afterwards is a short return to climate change with “The Crack,” one of the only true hard Rock songs on the album, envisioning an apocalyptic future where Earth has been absolutely devastated. People who could afford it took off to space in search of another planet, leaving behind nothing but the poor, what few animals that could adapt, and enormous fissures scattered all over the ground. It’s a short throwback to the beginning of the album, but, considering this is past the halfway point, I can’t help but wonder if it would’ve been better somewhere in the beginning.
Following is what I think is the most important subsection of the album — anxiety — something I feel especially connected to. “Closing In” portrays the paranoia and panic of small situations, with a noise being enough to paralyze lead singer Clottie Cream, and immediately sending her down a spiral, causing existentialism to creep in immediately.
Next is “Anxiety Feels,” a quiet and numb-sounding song, and what I, without a doubt, would call the best song from On All Fours. Singing about not wanting to take anti-anxiety medication, and feeling the effects of panic attacks every day, with the image of floating away from her own body. It’s soft and mellow, and the outro gives me goosebumps every time. It’s one of the most profound and poetic songs I’ve listened to in a long time.
To close these songs on mental illness out is “They Bite on You.” Originally written as a reaction to having scabies, the song goes into the feelings of delusion, agitation, and self-doubt that modern society gives everybody, biting and wearing you down.
To end the project, this transitions into “Bang,” one of the only other upbeat songs (while still using a chord progression, giving a confusing aura), and is the most radio friendly of the bunch, taking a lot of inspiration from pop and indie Rock. That doesn’t mean the content’s changed, however, with lyrics calling for a willing out-of-body-experience and the dissolution of the ego. This song really gives an image of floating around inside a mind, ‘metaphorically’ exploring it.
After this is the penultimate track, “Where Do We Go From Here?” This might be one of the most polished and intricate songs in their discography; it uses ghostly backing vocals, ringing synths, and auditory illusions to create the effect that the bass was playing on a different tempo than the drums. The lyrics are just as in-depth, describing British Prime Minister Boris Johnson as the repulsive man that he is, and imagining his autopsy showing his insides to be filled with black sludge and dirt, like a true monster, while he rots away.
Serving as the outro is “A-men,” another track with cryptic and confusing lyrics, but this time with a bittersweet, holiday-esque-sounding instrumental, making it a strong conclusion. With few lyrics, all discussing expectations, poison, and passing thoughts of a god, the ambiguous and contradictory tone of this song helps the album on a high note, while still embodying the band’s themes of delusion, disassociation, and cynical sadness.
I was expecting this album to be good, but it truly blew me away. Goat Girl almost completely reinvented their style between their 2018 debut and now, going from singing about their awful personal stories from London to a diversity of topics about environmentalism, mental health, and politics. This album had a great diversity in song topics, really shook up the instruments in their repertoire, and created an immersive experience with no filler and extreme replay value; every song was well above average and had its own unique traits.
While the creepy, purposeful delusional vibes might turn some people off, Goat Girl has always been a softer-sounding band, even with a harder sound on their self-titled debut, and it’s still very easy on the ears, while still providing complexity to keep their music interesting. There was no sophomore slump here; they improved in almost every way and created an amazing album.
Only a couple things made me hesitate: the time — On All Fours clocks in at just under an hour, 15 minutes longer than its predecessor despite removing all fillers and interludes and having six fewer songs; the mix — the instruments are so soft at times that the vocals can become too overpowering; and the lack of true solos — a lot of instrumental breaks and outros just involved getting louder and more complex, and there was seldom a loud, tough guitar solo you would expect from a Rock band.
Overall, though, this album was incredible, and I’d have to give it an 8.8/10. It gives great representation to women in a genre dominated by men, and has a sound I haven’t really heard anywhere else; they’re truly unique. While it’s really hard to pick favorites, if you don’t have a full hour to spare, I’d suggest just listening to “Badibaba,” “Anxiety Feels,” “Bang,” and “Where Do We Go From Here?”
Featured Photo: Courtesy of Rough Trade