'Concepts' (Paper Bag) -- 2.5 STARS
References of post-punk today aspire to fill a gaping hole left by the conformity of pop music with the spirit of erstwhile anarchy. “Concepts,” the first full-length album by Toronto-based new wave post-punk band Little Girls, aims to recreate this early-’80s recalcitrant feeling but falls short of succeeding. Pairing distinct, minor guitar riffs with scratchy and ethereal vocals, the duo—fronted by multi-instrumentalist Joel McIntyre of Pirate/Rock—brings to mind British post-punk staple Joy Division and ’80s one-hit-wonder Modern English, with a hint of Sigur Rós mysticism. The project, while coming somewhat near a rousing post-generation-Y anarchist spirit, ultimately fails at both creating a niche for itself and inspiring the alternative attitude so intended by the 11-track record.
Without comprehensible lyrics, the entire album relies heavily on its musical originality to justify its artistic endeavor, taking a risk with highly artificial melodies and voice tracks. “Youth Tunes” initiates the record with a synthesizer and a staccato guitar rhythm, while an odd, indiscernible voice warbles in the background and the guitar strums become progressively more ravaging. “Imaginary Friends” insists on an innocent nostalgia with its lilting yet pressing “oh’s,” attempting to pass off its gibberish as distinguishable lyrics. But the auditory pretend game is too rushed for comprehension, obscuring its sentimental moans with mismatched beats and forlorn growls. In “Venom,” drumbeats come in faltering steps and force unintended halts in the rhythm, ultimately transitioning the song into a fragmented and apparently unfinished conversation when it ends abruptly. The title track offers a moment of clarity with straightforward drumming and guitar riffs, but these are forced to wind through the formulaic, distorted vocals, with solos strewn in between for variety’s sake. In the end, the repetitiveness wins out as cycles of the same chorus never seem to make it to a specific destination, rotating around and around in guitar garble.
Admittedly, most songs on the album last less than three minutes, making for quick, on-the-go, post-millennium punk. The creative song names also make up for the lack of uttered lyrics, with titles such as “Salt Swimmers” and “Thrills” implying an inherently poetic, rebellious symbolism. But instead of feeling a powerful sensation of anti-establishment, we’re left with a mix of strange emotions. The album builds up tension with its onerous layers of dissonance and noise, but ultimately provides no gratification. Catharis-seekers will find it tough to restrain the urge to bash the nearest guitar into the ground out of frustration.
The album closes with “Growing,” making use of a not-so-subtle, save-the-best-for-last strategy. With a scratchy yet catchy melody complemented by a chipper pulse and moody vocalization, the ultimate track conceptualizes the youthful loss of the post-punk generation better than the 10 other songs prior to it. But even this finale can’t make up for the fuzzy blend of unclear intentions in the rest of the album, as McIntyre’s electronically-produced mumbles fade away into an abyss of lo-fi pop, void of any cohesion.
Recreating the new generation’s omnipresent fascination with punk may have seemed like an interesting way to refashion the old, but “Concepts” falls short with neither a sense of indie direction nor punk authority. The naïveté of Little Girls shows on its debut album, but credit should be granted to McIntyre and company for attempting to combine old post-punk with new alternative, even if precociously so.