Having made progress above the parapet with their excellent 2013 album 'The New Life', Belfast's Girls Names have the pleasant weight of expectation hanging over them for this fourth outing. The '80s indie influences explored by four musicians with an obvious connection resulted in dynamically restless riffs and an irresistible intensity. A personnel reshuffle in 2013, with Neil Brogan being replaced on drums by Gib Cassidy, marked a slight shift in the band's sound but they've looked to kick on again.
Unfortunately, for all of its post-punk angular energy, the whole thing has been produced with the bombast levels up to ten. The result is an album that feels squashed and devoid of the highs and lows that shape the listener's emotional response. The sonic mush that remains has some decent songs within it but it's not an especially appealing prospect when reaching for your next listen. Having previously positioned Cathal Cully's vocals in reverb-drenched fashion at the heart of the mix, the band have opted to give him room to breathe here. It's a wonderful voice, with little twitches and tones that are meticulously manoeuvred, but it's not especially well served by these twelve tracks. When he cuts loose in 'Chrome Rose' it's a delight, an exuberant synth line accompanying him to a clattering, echoey end.
An album in thrall to the beauty of Europe, 'Arms Around A Vision' features motorik rhythms on 'A Hunger Artist', reedy organ on 'Desire Oscillations' and a healthy sense of post-industrial gloom on album closer 'I Was You'. 'Málaga' has a gloriously fidgety beat, briefly ascending in its middle eight to a place as panoramic as the whole album desperately wants to occupy.
Some of the most enjoyable moments are the two electronic instrumental interludes, which wear their influences heavily on their sleeves and nod towards the Berlin of Bowie and Eno. The relative lightness of touch punctuates the record to great effect and they hint at what might have been if such leanings had been more substantially incorporated into the rest of the album.
Essentially, 'Arms Around A Vision' is lots of textures in search of some hooks to adorn. It's a record which feels like a grower but never manages to click. A dozen odd plays in, the progress is stunted and it's tempting to just move on. The magic's not gone but it has been obscured to a frustrating extent.
Words: Gareth James