The sleeve art for Girl Ray’s second album shows the band relaxing in a bright red convertible, its hood down in the sun. It’s a strong visual representation of Girl, which is a blast of summer to be enjoyed in the company of your best female friends.
This big sister bond is a continuation of the North London trio’s 2017 debut, Earl Grey. But where that was firmly rooted in C86, taking its cue from the jangly guitars of Orange Juice and Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, there’s been a significant musical shift.
Poppy Hankin had started to write new indie-pop material when the band realised their early guitar influences didn’t represent their current Spotify playlists, which were full of Ariana Grande and Calvin Harris. Acknowledging they needed to revamp their sound to reflect what excited them musically, Hankin learned how to compose over beats on a computer.
The resulting eleven tracks are still clearly crafted by the same three women. There are warm, close knit harmonies from drummer Iris McConnell and bassist Sophie Moss (it’s especially pleasing when they answer Hankins’ “yeah” on ‘Friend Like That’). The lyrics have an endearing artlessness as they sweetly meditate on romances and friendship. “We can have fun‚ play games/ Or you could just hold my hand,” Hankin sighs on the title track. Her deadpan voice, which is still accurately described as a Finchley Nico, also draws out the humour in more plaintive lines (“He dipped me like a casual fondue,” she complains on girlfriend advice track ‘Keep It Tight’).
Yet the music has stepped up to the pop mark and is more keyboard than guitar based. The electronic pop and R&B influence of Grande can be heard throughout but the synth lines are too clunky and rinky-dink to be genuine attempts to copy the genre. Instead, the band are filtering their early loves through their new pop crushes, which can clearly be heard in Ash Workman’s production (who’s previously worked with Christine And The Queens).
It’s this love of pop that shines through and sidesteps potential issues of them trying to align with cool new names when they bring upcoming London rapper PSwuave into the fold on ‘Takes Time’. She’s not the only guest slot, with ‘Just Down The Hall’ featuring a male vocal line in its soulful, electric piano outro. The funky guitar work on ‘Show Me More’, meanwhile, is so precise and tight that even Nile Rodgers couldn’t pass through the strings.
If these tracks are all about change then the last three hark back to their debut. ‘Go To The Top’ is heavily influenced by early Belle And Sebastian while the lazy, sun-kissed ‘Beautiful’ manages the unthinkable of mixing their sound with a vaguely dub-reggae vibe and wafting flute line.
Early Grey had hints of a band with wider ambitions – the title track’s thirteen minute centre-piece, for instance – but few would have anticipated them following it up with an album quite this wide-eyed, sunny and geared towards the pop market.