Two and a half years ago, Italy’s Unruly Girls unleashed their debut album ‘Cruel Tales’, reviewed by me in September 2017. This was a stunning debut: anarchic, arrogant and infused with a refreshing punk sensibility. The noise merchants are back with the album ‘Epidemic’ (named, it must be noted, perceptively before the current COVID-19 situation) and, if anything, they’ve put on their gloves and come out punching harder than before.
The opening track is the single ‘She Grew Up In A Shot Gun Row’ – reviewed by me last month – a monumental barrage of sneering attitude that fills one with hope for the future of snotty, abrasive rock’n’roll.
‘Please Give Me a Smile’ holds all the threatening vibe of the title – rumbling bass and squalls of noise with a slightly discordant guitar. Singer Humbert Allison’s vocals are deep and fuzzy and arrogant. This is scuzzy, filthy stuff and all the more adorable for it. Excessive, cathartic while somehow infusing a disco beat, it’s like dancing with a chainsaw. Having recovered from this onslaught, ‘Chanson Massacre’ has the pounding piano opening of a Tupelo-era Nick Cave before switching abruptly into an almost jazzy number with an Middle Eastern twist sung in French by collaborator Maria Pia Santillo (who wrote the lyrics). It’s slightly unnerving – indeed that is the tendency of Unruly Girls.
‘Den Crom’ illustrates the depth of the Unruly Girls sound – this is Cabaret Voltaire meeting Psychic TV in a darkened alleyway with a baseball bat. Allison’s threatening vocals are a perfect foil for the maniacal music and the repetition cranks up the ominous atmosphere. ‘Black Love’ has the electronic vocal pulse of Underworld’s ‘Born Slippy’ but with gritted teeth and an indie guitar-band brashness. Distorted guitar and electronic pulse never mixed quite so well.
Thumping disco vibes return with ‘No Wonder You Want Me Dead’ (Unruly Girls always have a penchant for provocative song titles) which is pure goth rock with a grand anthemic style – this is as close to conventional pop Unruly Girls get with its sing-along chorus and a sky-high melodic riff.
Metal grind-core guitars dramatically open ‘Bloody Brushing’ – an industrial blast of magnificent proportions. This song has an insistent drive with a profound rumble, suddenly morphing into a brief psychedelic interlude. It slices through the senses and leaves you shell-socked by its sudden departure. It’s medicinal.
‘Syrup & Soda’ is a chance for a pause – a more mostly electronic piece with longing haunting vocals reminiscent of The Jesus and Mary Chain or Primal Scream.
This soon dispelled – ‘Narc boyfriend’ starts with howling feedback and a driving epic sound – layered musical buzzes intrude before Alison’s trademarked insouciant vocals take over with brutal lyrical themes. Studied, indifferent and cold: a perfect accompaniment for the times and a perfect foil for the industrial musical onslaught that is Unruly Girls.
Never scared of being unconventional or experimental, ‘Death in April’ is a psych masterpiece – strange timings, distorted distant vocals and a fusion of intriguing sounds and noises – perhaps even a flute somewhere in the distance. It’s the trippy side of the band further augmented by ‘Every Day a Dead Cat’ which reintroduces a twangy guitar riff and a more contemplative, melodic, melancholic Alison. It’s almost delicate – Beach Boys melodic but for opaque lyrics that bely the tone. And it is this intrinsic tension that makes Unruly Girls so fascinating. True subversion.
‘Youth Barbarism’ captures this with its sampled intro announcement and its bouncy, almost pop tone. The album closes with ‘We Go and Goods Remain’, a fitting sobre outro.
‘Epidemic’, according to the band is:
…inspired by the way music can spread beauty into the world, sweetly connecting people and nurturing new movements and ideas.
Commendable thoughts and at odds, in a way, of the inherent sense of foreboding and threat throughout this album. But again, Unruly Girls thrive on oppositions and contrariness – this album is a cornucopia of sounds, noises, ideas and expressions that appear brutal, confronting but have at their very heart a melodic sweetness. It is cathartic – an immense pleasure – both physical and emotional – that breathes life into the listener. There is not much around that sounds like Unruly Girls and Unruly Girls sounds like nothing else around. In Epidemic, they have managed to draw in all that is exciting about edgy rock’n’roll music and added an anarchic and vibrant yet gritty sheen.
Unruly Girls are Luigi Limongelli (programming, drums, percussions & noises) and Humbert Alison (vocals, guitars & keyboards), with Alison often performing solo. Limongelli’s clear mastery of electronics is perfectly matched by Alison’s indie guitar background and rock star demeanour. The album was home recorded in Apice in the Benevento region of Italy (inland from Naples).
The album is out now through Dirty Beach Records and you can get it via the normal download/streaming sites or via the link below. Physical copies are in the pipeline. Note that on 1 May 2020, Bandcamp is forgoing all fees for purchases through their site, with funds going directly to artists: