Review Summary: Half-heard confessions and a hazy sense of dread
“Don’t Inhale the Barnyard”, the opening track on Peachy Fingernail’s new album i’m nothing if not a silly girl
, ends with this lyric: “My voice is like a wax car / It melts as it drives along / Bounced between angles and throat / It dies out and cools on a silver plate”. It’s hard to disagree. It’s not just singer/multi-instrumentalist Polly Llewellyn’s voice that sounds like it’s shifting between liquid and solid across silly girl
— the songs themselves seem to be in a constant state of flux, dissolving and reforming into something new just as you get used to them.
That’s not to say that there isn’t anything to latch on to here, though. Silly girl
borrows liberally from the rich traditions of lo-fi and outsider music, so anyone with a love for tape hiss and vocals recorded into notes apps should find themselves right at home in this album’s haze of Casio beats and blurred-over guitar and keyboard melodies. In its most hushed and confessional moments (“3/4 wash cycle”, “paper spider on his jacket”) it recalls the mutated folk of The Microphones and the scrappy intimacy of early Car Seat Headrest. The opening sections of “quilt pearls of cum” tackle jittery avant-pop in a Feels-era Animal Collective mold, and the chorus of “i’m ocean foam, let me die.” nudges blearily against spiky riot grrrl tones like a quarantine-addled Bikini Kill. That may sound like an overcrowded list of soundalikes, but with the whole album drifting through a sort of desaturated, dense fog, it comes together quite coherently in practice. Here, disparate elements and sounds all meld into the same, half-awake dream state silly girl
lulls the listener into.
It might be tempting to write off the lyrics here as superfluous. After all, if there's any one victim of this album's miasmatic sound, it's the vocals, which drift across each song without affording much in the way of enunciation or concrete meter. Llewellyn’s voice sounds half-remembered and ghostly more often than not. That's honestly a bit of a shame, too, because she's far too interesting and weird as a lyricist for her words to be playing second fiddle to the album's sonic aesthetic.
Its Bandcamp tags describe it as "Christian rock" and "praise and worship music," but hopefully the other tags (like "sex" and "cum") deter any true believers from diving into silly girl
hoping for anything they can play at youth group. Think less Newsboys, more mewithoutYou. Or, better yet, think Julien Baker, because she in particular feels like a clear precedent for Llewellyn’s explorations of queerness through the lens of religious angst. To hear either woman tell it, Hell is their inevitable endpoint, the road leading to it packed full of soul-crushing punishments. This music may be quite clearly informed by a Christian worldview, but don’t expect to be singing hallelujah by the end of it.
It’s not quite a one-to-one comparison, though. Where Baker tends to go for the broader strokes, Peachy Fingernail’s music can get almost uncomfortably specific. At its bleakest, silly girl
turns grisly and masochistic in ways that almost feel closer to early Xiu Xiu than anything else, making full use of Llewellyn’s gifts for crunchy, surreal metaphors and imagery (that first verse in “tied to a pole…”? In the most complimentary way, sheeeeeesh
How much silly girl
's success as gloomy mood music ultimately hinders its success as a hard-hitting lyrical statement will most likely come down to individual tastes. Personally, I'm far too big of a Pig Destroyer fan to complain too much about good lyrics going to waste on indecipherable vocals, but I did occasionally find the hazy vocal production here frustrating, and I hope future Peachy Fingernail projects give Llewellyn's lyrics the spotlight they really deserve. As much as I do enjoy sinking into the overcast vibe of silly girl
, I’m crossing my fingers that someday, a whole crowd might be able to sing along to lines like "I was just a naked arm / my right elbow's a sculpted boar".