PINS - Girls Like Us
So, here it is. Finally. With the head-spinning ferocity of their live show over the past couple of years, and a series of singles and EPs that supported the notion of them having the smarts to re-boot the very definition of ‘Manchester Band’, PINS's developing story intrigued and thrilled. But this is one story that doesn’t end all that happily: Girls Like Us disappoints and baffles in equal measure. Those early, self-released tracks at the start of 2012 – in particular, the shimmering dream-pop of debut ‘Eleventh Hour' – were a sharp C86 reworking of 50s girl-group classicism. It was like finding The Raveonettes and Howling Bells had chanced upon a long-forgotten chapter of the indie pop rulebook titled ‘Black is the New Black’ and decided to work on it together throughout the night. PINS were beautifully iconoclastic: black-clad and clearly, like all the coolest combos, a gang. You knew they knew their stuff, and when you heard singer Faith Holgate talk about how seriously she’d gone about assembling the right band around her, when you caught those early gigs, you knew the buzz was on the mark for once. They’d pop up in the oddest places around town: a 2pm show on Record Store Day that embarrassed much of the rest of the bill, an opening slot for a couple of hundred people at local promoters’ Now Wave’s now legendary ‘tower block’ gig where they were followed by the likes of M O N E Y, Stealing Sheep and Alt-J. You sensed a plan being hatched with passion and care.
But this long-awaited debut jars in how its debunks much of what made PINS so appealing in the first place; that disconnected otherness of ‘Eleventh Hour’ and the likes of ‘Luv U 4 Lyf’ and ‘Say To Me’. It sand-blasts the spacey lustre of their live show in favour of a stark minimalism. Modelling simpler lines, and presented surprisingly ‘raw’ - Girls Like Us was recorded in just two weeks at the start of the year – it’s something of a tonal shift. In many ways, the intent is laudable: the near-metronomic snare, the spare arrangements and the un-accessorised production. It’s nothing if not uncompromising. The guitars are a wall of bludgeoning distortion and Holgate’s vocals – constrained, it has to be said, by a predilection for knotty, staccato non-melodies – often uncomfortably at the front of the mix.
It’s more of challenge than it need, or should, be. Girls Like Us feels rushed; some of the songs don’t do enough, feel flattened by their sense of heritage, perhaps, limited by a design ethic that strangles the song craft. Ultimately, it is the songs that let this frustrating record down. The swamp stomp of ‘I Want It All’ feels cheap and easy, almost beneath them. ‘Mad For You’ jitters and twitches, flails for a hook. ‘Get With Me’ purrs where it should roar, with a chorus that strains for hot-blooded desire but is closer to a polite personal ad: “Is it that you want to get with me?” 'Lost Lost Lost' and 'Waiting for the End' are thin and predictable - riff-driven work-outs. They come across like sketches, grooves brought along to practice sessions, not finished songs destined for a debut album.
The gems shine bright. The title track throbs like The Kills’ ‘No Vow’ and it warms the blood, as does the closing, blistering ‘The Darkest Day’. ‘Stay True’ is intoxicating, all weird sister backing vocals and duelling guitars. Best of all, and unlike anything else here, is the psychedelic swell of ‘Velvet Morning’, a spoken word piece with words by ex drummer Lara Williams and voiced by bassist Anna Donnigan. It leaves you wishing they’d have dared stray from the path more often.
You wonder whether expectations were unfeasibly, unfairly high. Early comparisons, in hindsight, did them few favours: they’re not as blinded by the allure of pure pop as Dum Dum Girls and they definitely don’t possess the acid, raging spleen of early Hole. And it’s that notion of just who they are and what they want to be that informs an understanding of whether Girls Like Us is a failure or a debut executed to plan. You hope they're given to room to develop and explore. You hope they've fallen short early on, that they gradually dare to widen their scope. Is that unfair? Is it simply the case that this is what they do, this is who they are? Maybe. In which case, who knows? Who knows what to think? All I do know is that there’s a t-shirt in my wardrobe that chimes with PINS’ proffered inclusive, gang-driven manifesto. It says: “Je suis avec PINS”. I’m still with them. But, on the evidence of Girls Like Us, I’m not convinced they’re still with me.