North London-based pop-grunge trio Gold Baby’s first proper collection of songs, Rabbits, is brimming with ideas.
Gold Baby were originally formed in 2018 by lead singer and guitarist Siân Alex, who found bassist Sara Kleppe and drummer Scott Hislop once she’d moved to London from the comparatively tranquil city of Nottingham.
The constantly creative EP, released on 26 March 2020 and supported by HelpMusicians, opens with crashing drums that start first track “Bodie.” Presumably taking inspiration from the Californian gold mining ghost town that shares its title, the neo-grunge song seems laced with loneliness and longing for a thing long decayed. Determined drums pump like pistons and guitar lines turn like cogs throughout soaring choruses. By the close of the track the refrain “I was promised gold!” has climbed to an indignant howl.
Alex’s beautifully pure voice sits firmly at the top of every track, sometimes whispering, sometimes screaming, but always crystal clear. Everything waits for and hangs on her next move.
Second song “2041” is a theatrical mishmash of artpop ideas. At first the dreamy vocal addresses the listener earnestly, but it’s a ruse. Alex’s hoarse hissed whisper heralds a trippy time signature change and the guitar stabs at the beat. With playful verses and a military drumbeat that jauntily marches the band through the outtro, it’s not hard to imagine what theatrics would be at any longed-for live performances. The rug-pull of the changing rhythms means that the vocal roar, which wouldn’t be out of place on a post punk track, is a cathartic release.
Songwriter Alex has said she takes influence from artists who play about with performance, form and structure. It’s no surprise therefore that Rabbits is filmic in its approach to storytelling, and dances ambitiously from one genre to another.
Alex’s guitar picking and pretty harmonies open 90s grunge inspired “Betty.” Alex specialises in cryptic lyricism, which coupled with the crisscrossing vocal tracks has a disconcerting effect, despite the fairly standard structure of the track. The band properly gels in the final quarter, the tension releasing with a simple guitar solo, widening to introduce a welcome buzz of brass at the close of the song.
Final track “Captain Dorego” is the exuberant lead single from the EP, a creative blend of folk with math rock rhythms. The folk aspects of the song are perfectly in keeping with the recent Shantytok trend, and it’s not hard to imagine TikToks being made along to the line dancing in the video (beware flashing images).
But just as the sweet elements of “2041″ hide a disconcerting undercurrent, every time you feel safe bobbing along with “Captain Dorego’s” melody, a squall hits. Alex pulls the vocal back. She rears up like she’s unsure of where she is, and builds a chant to a snarl.
As Alex has revealed, the song is based around the idea of cockaigne, a medieval land of plenty removed from the struggles of peasant life. Her struggles with OCD played a big factor in the writing of the song.
“I’m starting to realise that a lot of what I find overwhelming is specific to me, but I think a lot of normal life is just genuinely overwhelming,” Alex said. “I was feeling frustrated that the focus is always on everything going faster and faster, and everyone just learning to accommodate a complete overload of information every day of our lives.”
It’s a timely thought, as everyone tries to make sense of their forced isolation during the pandemic and whether the frenetic lifestyles of before were preferable.
There are moments in the record where Kleppe’s resourceful basslines could be clearer and the drums a little less loose. Rabbits is not a perfect EP. It’s searching, emotionally raw ideas fall slightly short of crystallising.
The bones underneath are solid, and the talent is clear. As a taster for Gold Baby’s creative vision, it works; they’re finding their feet, and it’s intriguing.
Top Track: “Captain Dorego”