No better time to get into Petrol Girls latest LP, Baby. It’s a sick album for onboarding newcomers to their unique blend of noisy, post-punky, mathcore-adjacent rock rebellion! The reason is simple: in the many ways an album can succeed – creatively, thematically, lyrically and vocally, instrumentally, and so on – Baby checks off these boxes dutifully.
Firstly, the band is absolutely tight as can be! Guitarist Joe York takes his telecaster to the edge of reality and back, from the wormy hammer-ons that kick off “Preacher” to the glitching ringmod riffs on “Clowns”, the overdriven natural harmonics-laden strumming patterns all over “Violent By Design” to the whacky, super-harmonized melodies on “One or the Other”. I could honestly praise the rad guitar ripping on every single track, but I’d like to highlight the rhythm section first. Drummer Zock Astpai and bassist Robin Gatt do a fantastic job at managing all the intense odd-time signatures and sudden changes while still keeping the grooves nuanced but straightforward enough to bop along with. The pulsing kicks and rim clicks while the bass dances the outline of the chords during the bridge of “Bones” are perfect before the crazy section at the end of the bridge. The chopped up punk beat that accompanies the main riff on “Feed My Fire” reminds me of Nine Inch Nails’ “March Of The Pigs”. Man, do I love the juggling seven-four groove pockets on the verses of “Fight for Our Lives”. I could go on gushing, but just do you yourself a favor and listen to how monstrously this track breaks in at 0:23.
There’s so much creativity and power on these instrumentals! For many listeners, though, it’s the vocals that separate the bands they love and the ones they ignore. Well, it’s hard to ignore vocalist Ren Aldridge. She provides the direction, ethos, and face of the album. Her vocal performance throughout Baby gets the message across, whether it’s spoken, shouted, screamed, or sung. Just when a particular vocal style seems to be the new norm, she switches it up again. The first moment that one of these shifts surprised me was on the chorus of “Feed My Fire” where these sweet catchy harmonies go ‘Burning bright/Burn it down/Til I burn out.’ The hook on this track is so sharp that I got caught and had to hear it again straight away!
Some more rad vocals on the album are: the brutal ‘Power and control’ refrain on “Fight for Our Lives”, the ultra-clean singing on the front end of “Unsettle”, and the trippy delay-afflicted section about a minute into “Sick & Tired”. That’s just to name a few specific examples, but there’re cool moments littered throughout the album. As much as I like the variety of vocal styles on this album, I might’ve liked to hear a few more melodic hooks here and there. “One or the Other”, with the complexity of the melodies on the guitar, I think it’d have been better with a melodic vocal hook. It’s got a pretty vocal line towards the end, but by then it’s just a little too late.
I haven’t turned a deaf ear to the lyrics. Baby comes this year tragically well-timed as governments around the world regress towards outdated values. The rejection of such trends are palpable throughout the album, but perhaps most poignant on the song, “Baby, I Had an Abortion”. Hard-hitting lines like: ‘Whose life are you pro?/Whose do you want to control?’ and ‘Blessed in the fetus/But god damn the children in existence’ really call out the hypocrisy of these legislators who’re hoping to install their traditional religious values as law. Not to say there isn’t a moral question to ask and a discussion to be had here, but I reckon it’s pretty well-tangled up in gender inequality. After all, it ain’t men having abortions.
So I think a lot of the lyrics resonate with the current social climate. The frustration and anger in their delivery are understandable, to say the least. Like, sometimes it’s really aggravating that we’re living in a world gleaming with technological progress, yet socially, we’re haunted by the expiring values of the generations that came before us. I could write more about my opinions and junk, but I think this album is also more than just its message. It’s a really sick and exciting batch of tracks, brimming with creativity and borderline virtuosity, with great songwriting and heaps of feelings to boot.