KUMD Album Review: Girl
British power trio Girl Ray began their studio career with their indie venture Earl Grey. It featured off-beat considerations of loss, longing, and love in a sound somewhere between pop and indie rock. After the album tour ended, members Poppy Hankin, Sophie Moss, and Iris McConnell stepped out of the music scene and into service and office jobs. Then Sophie began experimenting with writing songs over beats, and the group returned to the studio. The fruit of these sessions is their sophomore album Girl, a collection of handcrafted pop songs about love and friendship.
The title track “Girl” starts the album on a 1980s synthpop foot that the rest of the album deviates little from. A sweet keyboard line dances over sunny guitar licks and a pronounced drum machine beat, contrasting with the breathy vocals. It’s a bright intro about a developing crush that introduces Girl Ray’s shift from indie to Grande-inspired pop well.
The album continues into varying but cohesive explorations of synth melodies and beats. The most successful songs on the record lean into their pop foundations; “Just Down the Hall” uses pronounced bass and bongo percussion to switch into a cloudier mood. The track features the lead singer’s lower range to great effect. Most of the songs on Girl rely on high-pitched melodies and Hankin’s airy vocals that tend to get lost in the instrumentations. More confident, clear vocal delivery may help elevate the melodies to tunes with some grip.
Highlight track “Takes Time” takes a turn for the hip-pop, featuring English rapper PSwuave and her confident, engaging flow. Her verses provide a needed shift in sound; it’s a moment of adventure and genre-bending that Girl Ray would do well to revisit in the future. The stumbling 8-bit keyboards and dynamic changes in song texture further set the song apart. “Keep It Tight” wouldn’t sound out of place playing on a ‘90s R&B station, featuring sassy, funny, empowering lyrics about sisters before misters. The lyrics here, and across the whole album, are a cut above those on an average synthpop release; they write about friendship, love, and joy without traipsing into the cliché or saccharine.
Songs like “Let It Go” and “Show Me More” are pretty enough but ultimately shapeless. The former includes interesting synth and flute noodling, but lacks a compelling hook or beat to hold it together. More organic, piano-led songs like “Go to the Top” and the closing track “Like the Stars” are sonic standouts that fall into the same trappings as their siblings. Lovely violin and flute lines, tuneful vocals, and soulful lyrics only take a song so far if the pieces don’t fit together. Girl Ray’s evolution towards pop suits them well, but their songwriting can only rely on beats and summery guitar so much before they need something with more bite and structure.