Girls In Synthesis: Sublimation - Album Review & Interview (2024)

Girls In Synthesis: Sublimation - Album Review & Interview (1)Album Review & Interview

Girls In Synthesis

Sublimation

Own It

May 3rd (order here)

DL/LP/CD

A vision of Girls In Synthesis as the last band alive. Living in holes underground as a part of some post-apocalyptic commune. No darkness. No daylight. No water. No worth. No nowt. A drought of sensation. Their latest offering, musically evolutionary and inches onward from their last, ushers them farther away from any group one could imagine operating in tandem with their prolific career, yet still succeeds in striking a crucial chord right in the iris of the modern, DIY punk tradition. Louder Than War interviews John Linger about their third album, Sublimation. By Ryan Walker.

The Fallacy of Individuality

Deprecation. Deceit. Deprived of what may have, in some rare chapter between the genesis of the species up until now- made us noble as we scale genuinely exciting heights and hope to unlock the scope of how small we are without burning everything in our path to get there. Humility has been hushed. Dreams autosaved.Imperfections airbrushed aside until narcissists bleed dry in their bespoke echo chambers, victims of internalised flatulence fade to grey under a photocopied rainbow, an impotent breed of obnoxious swine cry their last tear as a member of the pack unfollows them, forgets them, f*cks them over.

A case of Girls In Synthesis as the last band that matters? No…but close.

Their previous albums are a testament to this unwilling conveyor lifestyle. An awareness of it. Yet a refusal to adhere its strict regiments, political playpens and chaos orgies. These albums are evidence of where they’ve been and where they’ve yet to go. What’s been spoken of. What’s not been spoken of. What’s been seen. And yes, what’s not. Unwinding for eternity yet ensnaring all that falls victim to its Velcro strip surface- the road turns comrades into strangers and on the peripheries of these interconnected, concrete gardens and vast, desolate expanses- GIS, a guerilla gang engaging in noise warfare throughout treacherous moors, dominated by monochromatic noir and antihero goth pop, explore these terrains freely.

Terrains replete with barren landscapes, scant of much life, devoid of much movement. Infrastructures stood solitary as the subject of the shot- some indestructible model, a stubborn monolith. Once purposeful. Now forgotten. A static castle. A bunker capable of withstanding nuclear bombardment. A pier leaping from the page with the occasional flicks of colour cracking through the fetid, bleak environment but a colour that radiates a hue only adding to the savage supernaturalism and unnerving psychedelia of the demons within (and out) rather than submitting to something of a more positive proclamation shot from the arsecheeks of many online cheerleaders with Instagram-slogans tattooed on their forehead instead of pom-poms in their hands. Sensationalism, babe.

Is the new album from Girls In Synthesis any different?

Yes and no.

No in the sense they have mastered a distinctly depressive art that doesn’t need changing but rather elevating every time. They are aware of the tropes that typify their distinct noise but maintain an equal state of alertness, evidenced on each release up to the new record, that embraces the notion of challenging the expectations of that very noise, the essence of what makes Girls In Synthesis one of the finest groups of our contemporary DIY era, is an adopted method to avoid stagnation. In this way, every album is the same. It’s a thread of life-affirming coherency.

Yes in the sense this album witnesses the group force themselves through thresholds where they wind up finding new musical modes of expression, tools to sharpen against their primal, creative instincts so the inner workings of the three of them (John Linger, Jim Cubbitt, Nicole Pinto) are voiced accordingly. The same wars are being fought on the same bloody battlegrounds, themes may appear differently but don’t be fooled again, the war always has the same premise pulsating away at the core of its diabolical test screen. But there’s a new demonstration of methods afoot to capture the motives of old.

On their new album Sublimation (their third LP, but their career up until this point is littered with a near-limitless resource of material, psychical testament to the physical collectability of punk’s primary innovators and provocateurs such as Crass, Cabaret Voltaire, Buzzco*cks, PiL or Throbbing Gristle) Girls In Synthesis dig deeper into the cavities of the darkness they have created since the start.

Girls In Synthesis: Sublimation - Album Review & Interview (2)

Every GIS album feels like a statement of intent – an arrival – a declaration. The best way, and perhaps the most incoherent and incorrect way of putting it is like being taken down a tunnel, a cylindrical fortress of concrete, a pipe without light. Warm. Guided or thrown down some passage, observing the atrocities of the world at large on the other side, we tumble down it. Do they think in terms of taking them on a journey through these short stories and images?

”We’re distinctly aware of creating a world when we make a record. We’ve been like that from the start; we don’t have an interest in aligning ourselves with our contemporaries or whatever else may be going around. In fact, we’ve quite a lot of disdain for it’’ John Linger, the band’s bassist and main singer explains. ”I think this helps us focus on creating something that is purely ours, and this leads to everything being hyper-vivid. We also don’t claim to offer any light at the end of the tunnel or balance to the darkness in the subject matter, which may be quite bleak for some people. But it has to be that way’’.

The way it has to be begins with Lights Out, the first single released from the album. To the spine-tugging rhythmic car crash that takes no prisoners, that disposes of all passengers places its palms on either side of the skull, gladly applying greater pressure upon every ticking minute, Cubbit’s iron-clad couplets convulsive with gruesome neuroticisms (”sweat pulling on your chest, no rest, heart beating out the cage, next stage’’) adds a hypnotic monotony to the whole prowling movement before dissolving into a harsh broadcast of powerful electronic noise experiments as though one is being bathed with sheets of metal rather than bars of soap. Eventually the whole rollicking onslaught gushes forth with guitars phasing in and out of focus, soon joined by a bass and drum that dance on a razor blade’s rusted edge. ”That was the first song we recorded for the album, and the hardest, as we had to build a linking noise section out of about 3-4 different takes of freeform noise” explainsLinger. ”We wanted it to sound like you were flicking between different radio stations or something like that. And it was obvious it had to be the first single. I always knew it was special’’.

”Jim had the idea for the first section, which he sent me as a voice note off his phone. And I just loved the sparseness of it. It reminded me of Syd Barrett’s fragile first solo album. And I adore Barrett. I thought that building that section into a proper song would kill it, but obviously, that one bit couldn’t be the whole song’’ he adds. ”So, in rehearsal, we spoke about the idea of having two completely distinct sections. It was pretty organic, really’’.

Although the production of the album may have been different, how the album came about is the workings of an unbroken formula that has been consistent for years.
”We had a batch of songs that we were sifting through, and it felt like we had the makings of an album there. We try to make one every other year. Some of them dated back a year or so, then I wrote about 4-5 more before we went into the studio’’ Linger says. ”They turned the album ‘round a bit, and the tone and style of the album felt like a bit more of a big step for us. Holding our nerve to let that ‘become’ us was an important transition’’.

Diving into the dark underpass of engagements we are energised and exhausted (obsessed) with, Deceit unleashes the caustic, goth drama with added keyboard whines and groans, an earworm riddled with Linger’s voice, looking for (and at/through) you from all directions imaginable. Adding to the serrated Spaghetti Western guitar moves an almost Latin, bossa nova style snare and tom pattern from drummer Nicole Pinto (spare the cymbals- it’s all in the toms) and you get where the band are coming from when they proclaim the vision has been distilled into this.

”It deals with a duplicitous, unhealthy relationship and about your position in it,” says Linger. ”I think it’s easy to feel misplaced in life, and not know where you stand with other people. People are complicated and sometimes don’t say what they think. Sometimes second-guessing another’s motives is dangerous, but it’s natural to want to resolve issues in those situations.”

A molten, militaristic groove built of colliding cogs and jagged splices of noise pulsates in the pit of one’s stomach, Semblance of Choice straddles a radioactive line of light with Killing Joke on one side and Joy Division signed to Blast First live on the other before both splinters into a seizure of searing white fire. Elsewhere, on We Are Here – a primitive hiss of uncompromising post-punk aggression in the form of deserted warehouse claps and pangs, distant choruses of disembodied voices haunt throughout, on the hunt, hungry. It grabs a melody by the balls and breaks it below an interrogative bulb and spits a final question: ‘is that really something you will settle for?’ Then answers, on the cusp of obliteration: ‘We Are Here’.

Recorded in late 2023 at Sick Room Studios in Narborough, Norfolk by Owen Turner, the insertion of another presence assisted in the band dedicating all of their attention to the music. ”It offered a chance to focus purely on the music, which these songs required as they are undoubtedly our most melodic and tightly arranged. Usually, we’re also considering the position of the microphones, the quality of each take, whether or not there’s a fault with the technical aspect of the recording. Working with Owen meant that all of that stuff was being monitored by him as we were going along’’ Linger says. ”There’s also his ability as an engineer; he’s been recording bands since the 1990s, so he knows what works and what doesn’t from a technical aspect. He saved us a lot of time’’.

This time around, although the musically dominating (and indomitable) forces of musical nature that comprise the group remain (Linger’s bass, Cubbitt’s guitar, Pinto’s drums, and the impressive interplay that animates those instruments, despite each one possessing a unique property that it readily injects, mercilessly, into the bloodstream of the sound), the groups’ employment of textures and melodies, located in camps unique to proto-goth groups – introduces a new dimension to the Girls In Synthesis vibe that is utterly spellbinding from start to finish.

Melody? Texture? Colour? They’ve been there all along. Dormant, sonic disfigurations that don’t so much provide moments of reprieve (nor resolve – for the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ or ‘grass is greener on the other side’ are mentalities not shared by, or with – the state of mind typical of this group), but what melody, texture and colour do is assist in appreciating the sheer caustic surge, the volume, shape, scope and speed of the uproar and precisely encapsulates an atmosphere not yet heard to this standard in any GIS record previously.

It feels distinctly them, but the process was distinctly unlike them too, which perhaps contributes to how it sounds: the sound of the nearby pub, the rural enclosures, the sense of solitude, the whispering trees, the horizon appearing as though the earth simply slides off into nothing, probably into the pits of London. The making of this album required a psychological decision to be made where the band would, for the first time, let someone else into their world so they could explore every nuance and aura of sonic possibility, all the while isolated away from the distractions and damnations of the outside world.

”There’s also a psychological aspect to it all, and having an outsider able to manage us as people. Recording can be quite fraught… you’re under a lot of pressure to bring your best to the plate and it helps having someone looking out for when one of us might be cracking a bit’’ adds Linger. ”If you consider how intense the music is, imagine engrossing yourself in that world for 10-12 hours a day for 7 days a week. He was great at being able to pull us out of that occasionally, and giving each of us some space when we needed it’’.

Geography has always been an important element in what Girls In Synthesis do when preparing to produce an album. Landmarks that leave their unique impressions upon the overall sound of the record as though there’s something distinct in the water, crackling in the air, embedded deep in the unknown that settles underneath the skin.

”The isolation of the location definitely helped us focus. The weather was mad when we were down there, there was a storm which seemed to last forever. It was also helpful to be able to remove yourself from the chaos of the music by just walking outside’’ explains Linger. ”The studio itself is conducive to making music; it’s just full of musical equipment, from top to bottom. We set the live room up so that we could actually perform with each other; we put some lighting on and the stage banners up… we were aware that we wanted to capture some spontaneity as well as a more focused performance’’.

Furthering the anxiety by slowing down the pace, but concentrating the conjurations of darkness and despair all the more – Corrupting Memories is a salvo of creaky keys and diseased, delirious organs wheezing away. It’s melodic as hell – miserable and confronting the self on the familiar spot that all those hopeless conversations with the habitual self often take place on. But eventually disappears into a vortex expanding in the middle of the floor and all those attempts at logical illeism are sucked through along with it.

I Was Never There sees Linger’s bass shine a flashlight through a field smothered in fog, Cubbitt’s cut-throat guitars sparkle and stun throughout it, Pinto’s bone-exploding drum rumbling the earth below the feet of the whole, faithless stampede. Voices are spoken aloud, shouted, screamed and whispered when whacked against themselves. Virulent stirrings of chords are crushed by gaping jaws of noise. Riffs of odd atonality and sideways incisions leap back and forth and leisurely rip huge piles of reinforced concrete to a spread of hideous shreds. The refrain of ‘I was never there’ adds to the impact of the climactic damnation.

One wonders if Linger finds it easy to write lyrics of the kind of nature they are on Sublimation. Lyrics devoid of much escape, much empathy, much camaraderie. Is there any hope in the lyrics or is it despair and survival?

”I think writing the lyrics is immediately cathartic. Like you’re channelling every ounce of anxiety and tension at that specific moment. Again, we don’t rely on clichés or tricks. The lyrics are completely natural and honest’’ Linger states. ”To some degree, that moment of tension putting pen to paper is also the moment of release, but then it takes on a whole other level of intensity when we play the music together with them. But then again, some people probably don’t listen to the lyrics. It’s just a noise to blurt along with the music. But, in my opinion, if you’re only listening to the music, you’re only getting half the story. And vice versa’’.

”And any hope…? I’m not sure. It’s all open-ended. We’ll leave it to other bands to tell you how bad inequality is, and how we should all be treated. Everyone knows that anyway. We don’t patronise by offering an answer. The challenge is to face your issues, who are we to tell people how to deal with them?’’

Girls In Synthesis: Sublimation - Album Review & Interview (3)

There’s a primitive impact shooting through the veins of the record – less crash and smouldering crater but more the revealing of the weapon that made the f*cking crater – a sharp beam of sheer, stripped-back power that can snap ships in half in a blink. Although this isn’t minimalism – the melodic aspects of what they do, something sometimes buried beneath the barrage of the whole riotous racket – have a chance of captivating the mind rather than gasping for air. There’s more to what they do than slaughter. How does a decision to pull back as a means of pushing forward come about in the GIS camp?

”Well, the sound was dictated by the songs, really. Usually, we record with the live show in mind, but this time the songs were the priority” Linger confirms. ”We had discussions in advance that we had to hold our nerve and not fill every empty space with something this time round. Before, our records have been fairly impenetrable and relentless. Again, I think that really comes out of the format of the live shows we were doing at the time’’.

”It was obvious to us, come 2-3 months before recording, that the tone of the album was going to be different. In fact, this is something we’ve been talking about since the release of I Know No Other Way. That song stripped back a lot of the more chaotic aspects of our sound and gave the intensity of the lyrics and tension a chance to stand on their/its own two feet’’.

”I, personally, felt like the records (and the live show) were at risk of becoming too bludgeoning. I think we all felt that a bit. It felt a little like we were the soundtrack for people to jump about to’’ he believes. ”But there was an interesting shift around the second tour to promote The Rest Is Distraction where there were more dynamics in the live show, and that gave us an idea of where things could head’’.

”But, as I’ve mentioned, the songs dictated the approach. You know; it was ok to sing and not shout, it was ok to dial down the distortion a bit… in order to give the songs a chance to grow. Simple things like that… the hardest bit was holding our nerve to leave it as exposed sounding as it is. And I’m glad we did. And, you know, maybe it doesn’t even sound that exposed to other people, but bear in mind that the subtleties are way more obvious to us’’ he adds.

The album as a whole is a progression – a challenging of your former selves whilst still keeping the trademark GIS aspects intact and still as powerful, but Subtle Differences is highmark. How does a song like this come about?

”Yeah, that song is a standout for me, too. That was written about a month or so before we first went in with Owen. It took on the more melodic aspects of how the album was shaping up. Now that song I do feel has a bit of humour in it: ”I’ve been known to veer off course”, or ”It’s easy to cling on, when vulgarness does such a trade”. I think those lines are about me, a bit. The song in general is about adjusting your personality to fit in with your surroundings. The fallacy of individuality, really’’.

Signature sounds stretched and scourged. Transmissions shoot out a bolt of light between the eyes to the disturbing jerks of butchered puppet rhythm but a wonderful chorus of primitive 80s goth-punk melodies keeps us firmly locked on whatever temple it takes us to. GIS have always had a dystopian, psychedelic quality to what they do do – the kind of uncomfortable hallucinatory high- a dark trip where you’re unsure if the walls are melting or you’re falling through the eyes of your own reflection as you stand, like they stand, in weatherworn tatterdemalion boiler suits stained with blood and motor oil.

Picking Things Out of the Air has that kind of unhinged surge to it, like you’re being sucked into, or spat out something – as does I Judge Myself, a menacing, mechanical sacrament to somewhere unknown but with enough melodic oomph to provide us with the confidence to see the journey through but emerged hideously scathed and The Prefix with its wheezing, gothic synth-scapes.

”100%. That goth, or proto-goth, thing was a big influence while the writing was being done for this record. We were listening to loads of Banshees, the first Christian Death album… and we’re massive UK psych fans, so some of that unease and woozy aspect definitely fed into it’’ Linger says. ”We purposely try to avoid obvious chord progressions and structures. We always have done from day one. So I think that can add to the uneasiness of some of the music. It all has to be interesting for us to play, so avoiding bluesy/traditional progressions is a no-brainer, really’’.

Following a poltergeist having a panic attack in a house of mirrors that is The Prefix: a deadly maze of maddening Hammond organ keys and ferocious sonic bombast, A Damning Lesson rushes into life, all unwinding tape clicks from a lonely drum machine and vocals snapping against themselves with quick-time waves of delay. Eventually disintegrating into distorted echoes in what appears to be endless pits of electronic cicadas and leaking taps.

Finalising here, one could easily see an electronic, industrial Girls In Synthesis album coming out in the future. An experiment that taps into the Richard H Kirk/Nitzer Ebb/Throbbing Gristle/Fad Gadget kind of vein as heard on A Damning Lesson. The sound of things to come?

”I’m not sure, really. We’ve explored that aspect with Pulling Teeth, Enveloped and Bypassing from the stand-alone Konsumraush mini album. That’s not to say we won’t go there again, and who knows what will come next. The one thing this album has done is show us what we can do. Anything is possible”.

~

Girls In Synthesis Website

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Words by Ryan Walker

Photos by Bea Dewhurst ©

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Girls In Synthesis: Sublimation - Album Review & Interview (2024)
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