Artist: God Help the Girl
Label: Matador Records
Due Out: June 23rd
You might remember me briefly discussing Belle and Sebastian's Stuart Murdoch making a film, with an accompanying album, a few months back. As the story goes, Murdoch began amassing songs which he felt didn't fit the normal B&S format, and decided to branch out into a side project. That side project, God Help the Girl, ended up evolving into a film by the same name, due for release in 2010. It's an interesting record that harkens to simpler, less-stressful times. Think Belle and Sebastian if they had been recording music back in the 1960s and '70s. Still, it doesn't sound so much like Murdoch's main project that you get lost in that aspect. God Help the Girl can, and does, stand by itself as a great effort, whether you associate it with the upcoming film or not. My only word of advice as we dive in is 'relax'.
"Act of the Apostle" starts us off, and will probably be familiar to B&S fans, as it's one of their songs. Notice the classical reworking though- a theme throughout the album that has had me gushing over it since the first listen. The strings, horn and piano are at some of their strongest on this specific song, dancing from beat to beat, and playing perfectly off of Catherine Ireton's fantastic vocals. Ireton is the first of a bevy of female singers that appear on the record (there are eight women altogether). Some are contest winners, others are fellow recording artists, but all have a similar, youthful charm to them that you're sure to enjoy. Next is the upbeat and bouncy title track, "God Help the Girl," also sung by Ireton. The album as a whole addresses a woman, or rather, multiple women, struggling with various problems, tossing and turning between different emotions and actions in a show that will surely be interesting to see in the film version. "Pretty Eve in the Tub" follows, once again featuring Ireton (the most prominent of the female singers) and Murdoch in a slightly goofy duet about a tub. Admittedly, not my favorite moment on the album, but in no way is it a terrible song.
"A Unified Theory" is the record's first instrumental. It's a loose, freeform jazz number playing up bass, saxophone and piano to bridge the gap from the early moments into the middle portion. Another Ireton and Murdoch duet comes up next in "Hiding Neath My Umbrella," a track that starts off as something you may have heard in a 1920s dance hall, before breaking into the melodic and layered chorus reminiscent of a 1960s movie musical overture. Harmony-wise, I feel as if the dynamic between these two is the best of all of the combinations, and I'm guessing Murdoch felt the same way, since Ireton is featured so frequently. The other B&S cover comes in the form of old favorite, "Funny Little Frog," which is completely re-imagined by girl #2, Brittany Stallings, who sports a deeper and more soulful voice than her predecessor. Who ever thought this track could be a love ballad? Not me, but astoundingly, it works here to perfection. "If You Could Speak" is another fun, bluesy/folksy song that does a great job alternating between Ireton and vocalist Anna Miles. Keep an eye out for the background vocals the two girls execute behind Murdoch halfway through, as well as the whistling part, which for some reason, I'm a fan of. I always admire a good whistler.
"Musicians Please Take Heed," to me, begins not just the second half, but the end of the album. The mood appears to change here, some darker, some quicker tracks, and overall, it feels like the conflict within the music grows. Ireton seems torn as the crescendo of strings grows behind her for dramatic effect. Then we switch to Murdoch doing a solid David Bowie impression in the opening lines of "Perfection as a Hipster". To me, this track may the most interesting, probably because it has the most going on- three vocalists in harmony, heavy strings, and the aforementioned Bowie allusion. We calm down immediately afterwards though, with "Come Monday Night". For lack of a better term, it's lovely. Ireton plays the lead again on this wistful, lonely ballad full of hopes and dreams. Then the album's second instrumental, "The Music Room Window" keeps things slow, preparing us for the final few songs.
In a surprise change of pace, Asya, from Seattle teen band, Smoosh, appears as the lead vocalist for "I Just Want Your Jeans". It's odd at first, since you can actually hear the change in age between the earlier women and Asya, but the timid, youthful sound adds a sound of vulnerability and possible desperation, all of which make the mood what it is. I've made allusions to the 1960s various times throughout the record, but I feel like no track establishes itself in that decade better than "I'll Have to Dance With Cassie". It'll be no surprise that the track once again features Ireton, and I can't put my finger on how or why, but the very apparent strings and punchy piano part combine with her voice to just transport the track backwards in time. Lastly, we arrive at "A Down and Dusky Blonde,' which functions as a culmination of the record as a whole. The ideas are wrapped up, and our story seems to come to a close. It also features five female vocalists- Ireton, Stallings, Asya, and contest winners Dina Bankole and Celia Garcia. Luckily, it stays away from movie musical group vocals and keeps its integrity intact.
What's not to like here? It's quaint and provides for a nice dose of nostalgia. Nothing is forced, everything seems like the natural progression to the next step, and a solid amount of artists come together for an interesting, and almost eclectic collection of songs. I'm going to use the word pleasant here, for lack of a more appropriate word, because that's what it is- pleasant. The fact that the album can stand on its own two feet without the visuals the sounds are supposed to represent is another thing that reinforces my very positive feelings. I went in with modest hopes, and I came out with some pretty solid praise. Perhaps you'll feel the same. Similar artists include the obvious Belle and Seabastian, Camera Obscura and The Mamas & The Papas.
Best Track: "Funny Little Frog" (this isn't the album version, but you'll get the idea)