GIRL RAY + ELLIE BLEACH – PATTERNS, BRIGHTON 21.11.23
Titling reviews after references isn’t something I do often – what if nobody gets it and I just look extremely cringe? However, I’ve taken the plunge to honour the incredible merch that trio Girl Ray had on offer at the Brighton stop of their tour this week. The London-based indie darlings brought the tour of their latest album ‘Prestige’ to Patterns on Tuesday night, where the surprising intimacy of the venue turned out to be a perfect match for an album that’s almost aggressively celebratory. Sticking the bumper stickers they had on offer on the back of your car might indeed get you beeped at, but if you’re grooving to the selections from this setlist, you’ll probably be too smiley to care.
Support came from singer-songwriter Ellie Bleach, the evening’s delightful mystery. Bleach is one of those Gen Z performers whose approach to pop songwriting is sardonically alternative, one whose exact vibe can never quite be determined from the deliberate punky chaos of her social media feed. Instead of hard rock, though, we were delivered intricately written vignettes on self-love, self-sabotage, and the worst genres of men you could possibly date in London. Standouts from Bleach’s set included ‘Strong Man’, almost a murder ballad on the perils of internalised misogyny delivered with a wry self-awareness that hints at years in the songwriting game. Ellie Bleach’s voice fits this lyrical atmosphere perfectly; her voice is low and smoky, with a willingness to snark lurking just underneath the surface. She performed the tongue-in-cheek demands of ‘Lakehouse’ with the unpretentious confidence of a storyteller who knows that what they’re selling is art.
Ellie Bleach setlist:
‘Thought I Saw You’
‘Doing Really Well, Thanks’
After Ellie Bleach’s introduction, Girl Ray took the stage to warm applause. Their setlist was one almost entirely taken from their latest album ‘Prestige’, a self-confessed ode to the disco era and the ballroom culture depicted in shows like Pose. Both influences invoke a real sense of queer joy that buoys even the less polished songs of the night into something enjoyable. I wasn’t sure I bought into the disco revival the trio had their hearts set on in the first song of their set, but after ‘Show Me More’, I was sold. The combination of a decidedly vibey synth line and some gorgeous bell accentuation created a soundscape to truly get lost in. It’s definitely nostalgic, but reminded me less of the disco beats of the late 80s and more of the artful chart-toppers I grew up singing: Santigold’s ‘Disparate Youth’ and Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s ‘Murder On The Dancefloor’ spring to mind.
If I were to compare the ‘Prestige’ tour’s best tracks to anything, though, it would be to the more recent work of MUNA. Both acts tinge their work with the same nu-disco inspirations and romanticisation of nightlife spaces where love really is love. Celebration of queer love runs through Girl Ray’s standout tracks, like the simply doting ‘Hold Tight’ and the drum-roll of swelling affections that is ‘Love Is Enough’. The latter track’s summery lyrics “when the sun is shining on my girl […] I can forget about the world” were a brilliant antidote to the bitter cold outside when performed with Girl Ray’s signature calm confidence. There’s a sort of defiant nonchalance to the way they perform, as though they’re consciously refusing to distract from the power of their music with too many visual bells and whistles. We get the neon sign of ‘Prestige’ and a little self-deprecating stage banter thrown in, but really, it’s all about the music here.
Their final track ‘Give Me Your Love’ sums up the album as a whole. Its drum backing is perhaps the truest to disco classics, with an angelic choral intro added just to amp up the sanctity of the club. However, this is a song that twists and turns frequently, and before long we’re all being invited to groove along to a powerful bassline and even more powerful confessions of attraction. Given the album’s inspirations, it really does feel like one you’ll want to hear in a room full of people, all dancing the night away as the disco queens before us intended.
Girl Ray setlist:
‘Show Me More’
‘Everybody’s Saying That’
‘Friend Like That’
‘Love Is Enough’
‘Missing’ (Everything But The Girl cover)
‘Give Me Your Love’