It's hard to fathom that Girl Ray, the London trio of guitarist/vocalist Poppy Hankin, drummer Iris McConnell, and bassist Sophie Moss, recorded their fourth single, 2016's "Trouble," on what would have been their last day of school. Harder still to digest that the trio made a perfect single at such a young age. Combining the sweet fizz of C-86-style indie, the autumnal folksiness of Cate Le Bon, and a healthy dash of classic British folk psych, the song has the kind of hook most bands never write and they deliver it with breathless, wide-eyed, and effortlessly skillful style. It's the kind of career highlight most bands can't repeat, but Girl Ray's first full album, 2017's Earl Grey, is an almost-hour-long display of melodic beauty, vocal prowess, and graceful playing that shows that "Trouble" was no fluke. In fact, the group kicks off the record with "Just Like That," a bubbling pop song that uses the same formula as "Trouble" and is almost its equal, but it doesn't look back as they gracefully wend their way through a batch of lovely songs that encompass introspective folk songs, extended psych meanderings, and quite a few midtempo Todd Rundgren-esque ballads, both with and without piano. Poppy Hankin's voice is high and clear, soaring above the music like the breeze, while the others in the band support her with warm harmonies. The clarity of their vocals and the brightly observed lyrics help keep the record fresh as sparkling water, the woody arrangements help give it some depth. The trio, and their producer and sometime guitarist Mike O'Malley, don't fill the songs with a bunch of bells and glitz; they keep it simple and sparse. The core sound of the record is guitar-bass-drums, with well-placed keys and organs, horns, and 12-string guitar helping bolster things at just the right moment. The combo of voices and instruments is perfectly done as the band prove equally adept at heart-tugging ballads ("Cutting Shapes"), rollicking love songs that feel like they could have been borrowed from Carole King ("Stupid Things"), and epic-length almost-prog explorations that combine the best aspects of older bands like Electrelane and Imitation Electric Piano, while still sounding unique ("Earl Grey [Stuck in a Groove]") and stately, lace-wrapped tunes that feel handed down like heirlooms from Sandy Denny ("Don't Go Back at Ten") or Vashti Bunyan ("Preacher"). That is a lot of praise to dole out to such a young band, but the trio definitely earn it by releasing the kind of musically rich and emotionally powerful debut that feels timeless and stands far enough apart from the rest of the music scene surrounding it that it feels like a cleansing blast of fresh air.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra