On their 2017 debut Earl Grey, Girl Ray marked themselves as ones to watch with their brand of infectious, breezy indie that was endearing enough to ensure plenty of interest in whatever they did next. With guitars to the fore, the North London band served up helpings of delectable jangle-pop that won over listeners with its direct nature and wry lyrics. Having tried that, though, it’s on to bigger things on its follow-up, Girl, which doesn’t show the slightest bit of interest in replicating or bettering the sound of their debut and is all the better for it.
In the two-and-a-half-year gap between those albums, the trio (Poppy Hankin, guitar/vocals; Iris McConnell, drums; and Sophie Moss, bass) have undergone a near-total sonic metamorphosis, emerging from the studio with an entirely different take on pop than we heard on their debut. Over the course of these 11 new songs, they adopt a new musical palette that puts the focus squarely on synths. With that said, it makes perfect sense that for Earl Grey’s follow-up, they worked with Ash Workman, whose previous production credits include Metronomy, Christine & the Queens and Stealing Sheep - good reference points for the sound they’re tapping into this time around, though Girl refrains from indulging in pastiche; its creators striving, as they always have, to put their own stamp on things.
One of the best things about Earl Grey was its bubbly confidence and lightness of touch, and though Girl Ray have traded indie-pop for something that skews closer to modern chart pop and R&B, that effortlessness remains. The sun-kissed lilt and massed harmonies of the title track get things underway in surprisingly forthright fashion, introducing listeners to their new sound in style. Things sound noticeably broader and brighter here, with ‘Show Me More’ and ‘Friend Like That’ standing in stark contrast to the comforting intimacy of their debut, coming on more extroverted but crucially never sounding forced.
‘Because’ is a song of two halves, its first two minutes sweet and languid before the beat kicks in and it takes off, transforming from a slow-burner to a floor filler at the drop of a hat. It’s a pleasant surprise, pairing up with ‘Just Down the Hall’ as an example of what they can do when they really go for the gusto. As a whole, though, Girl is a more reserved listen, preferring to seduce with its intricately-crafted sound rather than with something flashy and instantaneous, though they have no trouble amping up the immediacy when called upon.
They do just that on a collaboration with east Londoner Yazmin Lacey, AKA PSwuave, whose energetic flow brings a sense of urgency to ‘Takes Time’ as she soars over the song’s sumptuous melody. Elsewhere, they slow it down on ‘Let It Go’, allowing the song’s delicate, bass-driven throb and Hankin’s impressive vocals to thrive in the spotlight.
It might sometimes seem a little too light for some, but the decision to untether themselves from their previous sound means that they’ve been able to continue their exploratory approach to making music without keeping past work in mind. In that way, Girl sounds almost self-contained: its shift in sound so complete that it’s impossible to guess what its follow-up might sound like. Throughout, it conveys the sense that Girl Ray - or at the very least, this version of the band - are having a blast experimenting, but the likability that won them so many fans last time remains intact on a laid-back, easy listen that rewards deeper examination.