There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments on Most Normal, the audacious third album by Ireland’s Gilla Band. Occasionally they come from Dara Kiely’s riled-up lyrics: “I can’t wear hats I just get slagged,” he chants over Adam Faulkner’s drilled snares on “Bin Liner Fashion.” On “Backwash,” he declares “no one looks cool around a wasp” in a matter-of-fact sneer, though the real punchline is the sickly, warp-speed gargle of noise that follows, which gives the feel of swerving down the twistiest slide at the waterpark on a flume of sewage.
But perhaps the funniest moment comes at the start of “Almost Soon.” On an album where Gilla Band became studio rats determined to push every sound to a mutant extreme, here is Most Normal’s lone immediately identifiable guitar. Not only that, guitarist Alan Duggan plays straightforward chiming chords, and in a tone that immediately suggests the ebullient cockiness of Is This It-era Strokes. Though three of Gilla Band cop to being in a teenage Strokes rip-off band, the four-piece (completed by bassist Daniel Fox) could not exist any further from that kind of rock orthodoxy. And sure enough, within 40 seconds, Kiely is howling “I’ll brain you!” and Faulkner’s tidy beat suddenly sounds like he’s whipping static. By the time the song ends, Gilla Band are spinning up clouds of outer-planetary ash.
Most Normal is Gilla Band’s third album in eight years. Despite a slight catalog, they’ve become one of the most influential bands of their generation in the British and Irish Isles—not least at home in Ireland, where the likes of Fontaines D.C. and the Murder Capital followed in their frenzied (and putatively post-punk) wake. “It’s nuts watching it ’cause they’re all like rock stars now,” Duggan said recently. “And we’re still fucking, er, very much not. Which is fine.” It’s also the point. From their breakout song—a distinctly condemned cover of techno producer Blawan’s “Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage?”—Gilla Band (fka Girl Band) refused to act like a rock band (pretty much the smartest thing any outfit of that ilk can do today). Their distance from mainstream success gave them the space to hone their brutal and exhilarating approach.
After releasing their discomfiting 2015 debut, Holding Hands With Jamie, Gilla Band canceled tours so that Kiely could prioritize a mental health emergency. They spent two years writing the 2019 follow-up The Talkies, happy enough to let people assume the group had disbanded as they toiled in private on a masterpiece of panic and deconstruction. Once the pandemic limited touring, their rehearsal space became a refuge where they could hang out, get drunk, and push extremes, working with zero concern for how they would ever play their third album live. And Most Normal is unmistakably lab work. Instrumental phrases repeat across the record at varying levels of degradation, from full pelt to ghostly apparition. A stridently contemporary record that couldn’t have been made without an arcade of pedals and processors, not to mention a forensic intent, it bears comparison to two charred albums that Low have made with BJ Burton, although it shares as much DNA with Yeezus’ precisely warped abrasion or Earl Sweatshirt’s hallucinatory Some Rap Songs. Crucially, despite Gilla Band persistently writing and reinventing—an easy way to make things stodgy—it also breathes vigorously, making the gap between man and machine imperceptible.