Girl and Girl

In one sense, it’s easy for artists—songwriters, specifically—to express their feelings in their work. After all, that’s what the lyrics are for! But it’s much harder to convey emotional energy in how you play, slash at the guitar, and the structure of the music itself. That’s precisely why Girl and Girl’s Sub Pop debut, Call A Doctor, feels like such a vital, electrifying shock to the senses. Not since the early work of Car Seat Headrest or Conor Oberst’s widescreen emotional brutality as Bright Eyes has indie rock managed to come across as this intimate and grandiose, as the Australian quartet led by Kai James lay a lifetime’s worth of woes—mental health, the human race’s planned obsolescence if you’ve been living on this cursed rock you know what we’re getting at—across a canvas of indie rock that feels both timeless and in-the-moment.

An audacious and aggressively tuneful blast of a record, Call A Doctor is an unforgettable first bow from Girl and Girl, whose origins lie in James and guitarist Jayden Williams jamming in his mother’s garage in the afternoon after school. One afternoon, James’ Aunty Liss headed down to their practice space after walking her dog and asked if she could sit in on drums. “It sounded really great,” James recalls. “We begged her to stay, and she said, ‘I’ll stay until you find another drummer.’ We wore her down, and she eventually became a permanent member.”

After bassist Fraser Bell joined to round things out, Girl and Girl hit the road and began to make a name for themselves beyond the Australian bush, eventually signing to Sub Pop off the strength of word of mouth. Call A Doctor came together quickly soon after, largely recorded in marathon sessions in a two-story industrial complex over the course of two weeks. “That added to the intensity of the album,” James says about the frenzied creative process overseen by producer Burke Reid. “I can hear the stress in the record, which is good because that’s what it’s about—being tense, tied up, and in your own head.”

Call A Doctor’s eleven songs—spanning sweeping guitar epics and wry acoustic shuffles to spiky punk maneuvers and the type of raw, adoringly unvarnished indie-pop associated with legendary PacNW label K Records—are literally plucked from James’ personal history, as he reworked older recordings with newer lyrics reflecting his past struggles as well as new anxieties that emerged prior to the album’s recording. “I’ve struggled with mental health for a lot of my life,” he explains, “and I went through a particularly difficult patch when we were making the album; the band had started to get some attention, and I felt an enormous amount of pressure to live up to it.”

Far from the sound of collapsing under pressure, Call A Doctor finds James and Co. stepping up with their entire collective chest. This is a record that’s so out-and-out alive that you nearly feel like you’re in the same room with Girl and Girl as you listen to it; lead single “Hello” practically bursts through the speakers, amplified by Aunty Liss’ unbelievable stickhandling duties. “‘Hello’ is all about romanticizing your own misery. Letting those deep, dark, dirty thoughts take over. Understanding that even if you could pull yourself out, you wouldn’t because the constant stress and worry is far too familiar and comfortable.”

“Mother” pogos on a spiky groove that’s reminiscent of the geographically close New Zealanders who make up the legendary Flying Nun label, while “Oh Boy” draws from the Shins’ own jangly sound, injected with James’ wonderfully nervy vocals. Then there’s Call A Doctor’s sorta-centerpiece “Maple Jean and the Anthropocene,” a five-minute epic offering a new perspective on climate change and the notion of what it means, in a personal sense, to suffer: “I live in the bushland, and I was driving home one night and hit and killed a wallaby with my car,” James recalls while discussing the song’s lyrical inspiration. “My first thought was, ‘What is the universe trying to tell me?’ No remorse, no guilt, just total self-centeredness. Which was like, Woah, you fucking psychopath! This wallaby wasn’t put on this earth to send you a message. That’s what the song is about, our egocentric species - thinking you’re the main character and that everything that happens is somehow about you.”

“This record is about an individual who’s too far in their head, trying to get out,” James continues while discussing Call A Doctor’s overall outlook—specifically the snapshot it offers of its creator. But even though this record deals with uneasy topics we all know well from within ourselves, it’s important to emphasize how teeming with life Girl and Girl’s music is. There’s a brazen, bold sense of humor to this stuff, an undeniable brightness to the darkness that makes it impossible not to be drawn in as a listener. Feeling down never sounded so goddamn good.


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