British indiepop has gone through so many phases of popularity that it can be hard to tell when it’s in or out of vogue. Which only makes it more surprising that Girl Ray – a trio of 19 year-olds from North London – seem to have no problem evoking the C86 sound of the likes of The Raincoats and The Pastels on their debut album, the punningly titled Earl Grey. Still, perhaps there’s something about the genre’s whispers of dreams unfulfilled and love unrequited that speaks to people who are just out of secondary school.
Another of indiepop’s curiosities is its mix of the twee understatement with book-smarts and the pop sensibilities of ’60s soul and ’70s pop. And that’s in evidence on Earl Grey, pretty much straight form the off. ‘Just Like That’ is a crinkling guitar and stomping drum sound, sandwiched by the group’s vocal harmonies and the underscoring of an organ.
By third track – and lead single – ‘Stupid Things’, it’s already an effective sound, but with piano leading the way this time. If there’s a criticism that ‘Stupid Things’ and ‘Preacher’ (another single release from the album) follow a similar pattern, then many of Earl Grey‘s album tracks shows how comfortable Girl Ray are in branching out. Title track ‘Earl Grey (Stuck in a Groove)’ is a meandering thirteen minute epic while ‘A Few Months’ culminates in a near-funk instrumental coda.
The reprise of ‘Stupid Things’ meanwhile, some seven tracks and thirty minutes later, turns it into a kind of ’70s AOR slow-jam. Importantly though, there’s no reach here – rather, songs such as ‘Don’t Go Back at Ten’, ‘Cutting Shapes’ and ‘Where Am I Now’ showcase a band unafraid to express itself using a more measured style than many of their peers, whilst combining the band’s trademarks: countrified guitar, perfected vocal harmonies and subtle rippling of piano – all while Poppy Hankin’s story-telling, deceptively-simple lyrics sit on top. It’s all a bit like Gorky’s Zygotic Mynic, but transported from Carmathen to Camden Town.
Confident in their artistry, unafraid to push the envelope, and with an ear for the best parts of their influences, Girl Ray have produced an album that is one of the best of the year. Earl Grey will definitely be your cup of tea…
Earl Grey is out now on Moshi Moshi Records. And you can catch Girl Ray live at The Scala on 9 November.