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In 2012, Irish four-piece Gilla Band (known at the time as Girl Band) entered the scene of noise rock and post-punk at a relatively quiet moment in the British Isles. In a post-punk sense, the electricity from its revival brought on by the likes of Interpol, The Strokes and Franz Ferdinand, to name a few, had mostly worn off. Meanwhile, noise rock has pretty much always remained a scattered bunch of experimentalists and/or musical sadists trying to make their mark by carving it into our ear canals. All it took was some hectic live shows and the release of their cataclysmic debut Holding Hands with Jamie in 2015 to completely shake up the paradigm. Contemporaries started popping up around them left and right, bands like FONTAINES D.C. even citing them as hugely influential. Speaking in terms of notoriety, though, FONTAINES D.C. have certainly eclipsed them. This begs the question of how a band so fundamentally crucial to one of the most exciting and innovative scenes in the British Isles could remain so relatively under the radar compared to their peers.

Perhaps it is partly due to the fact that they had only released two albums in the span of seven years up until now. One reason for the long gaps between releases stems from the long hiatus they took, spurred on by frontman Dara Kiely’s mental health (a theme that heavily persists across the band’s work). Furthermore, Gilla Band never quite shared the same singularity in terms of genre that many of their contemporaries did. Being as perplexing as possible has been the modus operandi of the band since its inception. That said, their latest release Most Normal finds the band discovering a new level of esotericism.

The opening track, “The Gum,” crafts the noise of what one would imagine sticking their head in the microwave sounds like. Every texture is taken to its breaking point, masked with filter on filter until the original instrumentation gets entirely lost underneath the wailing apocalypse that becomes the final product. This includes Kiely’s own voice, which sounds like it was layered behind an infinite snake of bullhorns, the perfect accompaniment for the air raid siren effects in the background. In an interview with the Guardian, guitarist Alan Duggan described the band as “[wanting] to channel the elastic surreality of the dreamspace.” “The Gum” only goes to prove that when writing this album, Kiely’s dreamscape was filled with nightmares.

That being said, there is a lot of merit for the emphasis on dreams within the album. There is a borderline hypnagogic quality to the incomprehensibility of Kiely’s lyrics. Whether it be the sardonic bemoaning of wasting money on “shit clothes” on the track “Eight Fivers,” or the occasionally rhyming babble on “Backwash,” the band doesn’t feel the need to ground the music in anything. Nor do they really need to, given how much of the momentum comes from the instrumentation. Each song flows into the next, trading one armory of noises for another. Tracks like “Gushie” and “The Weird” take spacey synth melodies and use them almost as if they are stretched out samples of a grandfather clock chiming at a late hour. Even still, cacophony is the common vernacular of Most Normal.

Beyond the dreamlike quality of the record, Most Normal boasts a meticulous craftsmanship through its production. Whatever the reason — whether it be from the long spell of inactivity afforded by the pandemic, an obsessive endeavor for perfection or a mixture of the two — so much of the album feels like it was crafted in a lab. Each sound has been tinkered with until it becomes as alienating as possible, with dozens of failed attempts leading up to it. One could imagine Most Normal being constructed by reverse market research, the end product being the most inaccessible thing Gilla Band could muster. And the crazy thing is that the record thrives on this imperviousness. Even on a song like “Almost Soon” — the closest thing to a traditional post punk track that Most Normal is willing to offer — the stripped back twangy guitar chords and sarcastic yet catchy droning from Kiely lull you into a false sense of understanding until the chorus arrives to the tune of grinding screeches and Kiely screaming “I’ll brain you.” It’s ultimately thrilling to see how and to what degree the band will switch directions, even in the middle of a song.

Despite how exciting Gilla Band can make sonic whiplash feel, there comes a point when the question of what this record is trying to say arises. Of course, not every record needs to be contained within some overarching statement, but with the flow and overall tonal consistency (with said tone ironically being inconsistency) of Most Normal, it certainly feels like it’s trying to lead toward something. Finally, after 11 tracks of blissful nightmarish confusion within the surreal, we are awakened by the horrifying reality that is “Post Ryan.” There’s something truly unnerving about how Kiely’s transparent descriptions of his own shattered psyche are conveyed through such a cynical and acerbic manner. The track has an almost upbeat pace to it, which is further distorted by the return of twangy dissonant guitar chords whose sole purpose is to shroud the music in absurdity. Kiely lays out self-flagellating lines like, “Took it all for granted / Gonna end up homeless,” and “I’m just the same prick.” He progressively tears himself apart, acknowledging the walls that he puts up and the way that making a living through music has stripped him of his self-worth. And yet, at the same time, the song serves as the perfect encapsulation of why he continues to pursue it. At the very least, the music becomes the manner to put these feelings to some use.

The final words of the album, “Inevitable depression when I do nothing,” depict the life detached from making these songs. Earlier on in the track, Kiely admits that “[He] hid behind the surreal.” He finally breaks free from the trapped inner space of mental illness to address it honestly and thoroughly. Effectively, “Post Ryan” is the track in Gilla Band’s discography that shows the band at their realest. As deceptively obvious as it is, Most Normal truly is Gilla Band at its most normal.

Daily Arts Writer Drew Gadbois can be reached as gadband@umich.edu.