Quite a few young bands have gone back to draw on the folk-rock of the 1960s, having realized, perhaps, that a good hook is harder to create than any number of more outwardly strenuous effects. There's no shortage of memorable hooks in the music of the New York trio Girlyman, which picks up a vein of folk harmony and songwriting that began with Simon and Garfunkel and ran forward through the music of Girlyman's mentors, the Indigo Girls. Their music has a lovely bittersweet quality that's imprinted on the listener's brain with long strings of bouncy rhyming lines that explode into the shimmering colors of really intricate trio harmonies.
Girlyman consists of two women, Tylan Greenstein and Doris Muramatsu (who met in second grade in New Jersey), and one man, Nate Borofsky. The name is a protean thing with various meanings: it signifies the makeup of the group, the sheer fun that is the dominant tone in their music, and the members' longtime sense of never fitting in. Girlyman proceeded as planned with their first rehearsal on September 11, 2001, a topic that shows up in passing in their songs (which is how most of us think about it by now), and they all moved into the same Brooklyn apartment. "We all kind of fell in love," Borofsky says, "and had this creative explosion." All three write songs and sing lead, accompanied by guitars or a banjo and often by a djembe, the ubiquitous West African drum that's so much more articulate than the bongos of yore.
But the harmony singing is the real news with Girlyman. The members were all classically trained, and that shows up in arrangements that go places harmonically that their predecessors would not have tried. The sound is dense and lush, and you can listen to Girlyman just for that lushness — their MySpace page sports a quote proclaiming them "a luxurious sonic bubble bath," and another band they list as an influence is Squeeze. Especially subtle passages ("I drown myself tonight in cheap sangria") become addictive earworms. Yet the effect is different from that of a virtuoso group of harmony singers like Take 6: the harmonies never seem flashy but are tied into a melancholy that, I think, is pervasive with the upcoming generation, and that in the music of Girlyman underlies all the beauty and fun.
Girlyman brings its third album, Joyful Sign, to the pleasantly intimate Green Wood Coffee House on Friday, April 11.
[Review published April 2008]