ARTIST: PETROL GIRLS
TITLE: CUT & STITCH
LABEL: HASSLE RECORDS
WORDS: MATTHEW WILSON
Arriving in a timely manner in the dying days of 2016, a year that overflowed with excellent music against a backdrop of societal breakdown, post-hardcore band Petrol Girls’ blisteringly confident and confrontational debut ‘Talk Of Violence’ demanded attention. Petrol Girls exploded onto the scene with their identity seemingly set in stone. They weren’t here to take your shit, they were here to confront you with what you needed to hear, and they were going to play so damn well you couldn’t ignore them.
Yet for all of the success Petrol Girls found with ‘Talk Of Violence’, there was a side to their identity that was fighting for space on their debut. Whilst their outrage at systemic and structural violence was placed at the forefront of their music, the vulnerable humanity that informed their intensity struggled to express itself in the same way. In dealing with large, complex political topics, there wasn’t enough room for Petrol Girls to talk about the human experiences that ultimately inform who we are, how we choose to organise, to mobilise, to act.
“Whereas ‘Talk Of Violence’ was a solid slab of janky post-hardcore riffs and screaming vocals, ‘Cut & Stitch’ revels in pure experimentation“
‘Cut & Stitch’ finds Petrol Girls concerned with putting these human experiences at the forefront of its music, exploring similar concepts through a different perspective, weaving in and out of different forms of expression. Whereas ‘Talk Of Violence’ was a solid slab of janky post-hardcore riffs and screaming vocals, ‘Cut & Stitch’ revels in pure experimentation, with spoken word and ambient, downtempo songs sitting comfortably alongside the aforementioned noise rock assaults. This album is about constant change, taking an idea, cutting it up, stepping back and recontextualising it to discover more meaning from it. No two songs on this record sound the same, and that’s a good thing coming from musicians of such high calibre as Petrol Girls.
And yet, even though no song on this record sounds the same, the album has a coherent narrative that allows you to see the stories of each song as part of a larger whole. A spoken word introduction by Aldridge muses on how sound travels in a way our bodies can’t, a form of immortal bodiless touch, moving beyond physical and imagined borders, a power to be harnessed, before exploding into ‘The Sound,’ a song framed around a riff that mutates every second, the band trying to harness the raw mysterious power of this vibration. This introduction reverberates throughout the entire record, an experimental exploration of the sheer potential power of music.
In this way, Petrol Girls have created a patchwork album that represents life in our fragmented age, with each song’s experimentation reflecting a different element of life in turbulent times. Aldridge’s voice acts as a thread in this labyrinth, stitching together different aspects of our lives into a brutally honest representation of human experience, a ‘Tangle Of Lives’, to take the name of one of the songs as an example. This is how an album can place a song about anger at nationalism on the excellent ‘No Love For A Nation’ next to a song about mourning the loss of a family pet on ‘Skye’. Both are vital expressions of the kind of humanity Petrol Girls embody, empathy for the living and anger at violent systems of injustice.
“the politics of Petrol Girls haven’t changed, but are themselves cut-up and reformed in a new light, championing vulnerability as a strength, not a weakness.“
In this light, the politics of Petrol Girls haven’t changed, but are themselves cut-up and reformed in a new light, championing vulnerability as a strength, not a weakness. The heart of the album is in the spoken word piece ‘Rootless’, with rustling pages of lyrics audible over a yearning guitar line and reverb laden drums, as Aldridge meanders through the geography of memory, trying to come to terms with the restlessness they feel, “homesick for somewhere I’ve never been, nostalgic with memories I have yet to make”. It’s a huge tonal shift from the impassioned rage of ‘Talk Of Violence,’ but in its sheer nakedness and vulnerability, it ends up resonating with me in a way that songs on their debut never did.
This isn’t an easy record to listen to. It demands your attention, as it somehow manages to fit 15 songs into a 35 minute run time, and its narrative nature and flow means it really needs to be listened to as a whole to get the full experience. It also has to be said that whilst the majority of the experimentation on this record hits home, sometimes the execution doesn’t quite work, as in the spoken word section of ‘Big Mouth’ that halts the momentum of one of the most frantically urgent songs on the record. But these are small missteps on an album from one of the most exciting and vital bands to have emerged from the punk scene in the last few years. Balancing politics with humanity, Petrol Girls have taken a huge step forwards in harnessing the power of that infinite, ever-changing, immortal sound.