Hands Off Gretel

Rising stars of a New Wave of British “Girl/Grunge” movement Hands Off Gretel have a debut LP out, and we at RR have the pleasure of reviewing it. Anyone who has chanced their arm and gone to a show on the recent tour (as I did), won’t, I’m sure, have been disappointed.

They have managed to create an album’s worth of material that reflects the incendiary power of their live output. “Queen of The Universe” sets out their stall early with a clicky chord intro, before Lauren’s subtle vocal kicks in. However, she ups the ante as she screams the chorus with an underlying menace. As on many of the songs here, Lauren (vox) sings with a real heartfelt honesty and lyrically wears her emotions heavily on her sleeves. This is the classic intro song and a powerful statement.

The dark, brooding bass on “One Eyed Girl” gives way to Lauren’s now elevated screeches. It’s a pacey little number yet the vocals remain clear and audible throughout. Sam’s pounding drums and heavy symbol use are also a feature, allied to Sean’s intricate chord changes. At certain points Lauren’s screeching reaches from the depth of her lungs, yet she manages to return to the softer more melodic tones in equal measure. “Bad Egg” is quite a departure from its predecessors with its delicate bass intro and softer, subtle vocals. It is their most Gothic of tunes on this collection and wouldn’t be out of place on a Die So Fluid LP. The wonderful chords in the background are hidden behind a haunting vocal. However, that vocal just explodes in the chorus. I’m just curious as to whether the story telling lyrics are autobiographical or simply fictional? Either way, they are delivered with a brutal honesty that makes you feel for the subject.

Hands Off Gretel

“Teethin” is by far the most melodic cut on here. Simple, audible vocals over swirling guitars and subtle hitting, for once that vocal doesn’t reach the screams of earlier tracks. That said it is no less relevant and certainly not out of place. Then; just when you least expect it, the song really kicks into life and Lauren once more screams her vocals to an abrupt end. “Little Man” is by far the album highlight. An honest, story-telling ode to a friend/ex-lover maybe. Haunting yet heartfelt vocals match the simple guitars and gentle hitting. The chiming guitars in the background wouldn’t be out of place on a horror movie soundtrack, while Lauren’s occasional yelps take it up a notch in places. Towards the songs conclusion it becomes scarily hypnotic as Sean’s swirling guitars and Sam’s drums become stronger. And yet, just when one thinks the song has ended; the drumbeat slowly fades to nothing, which is a clever touch.

“Always Right” opens with a guitar part heavily borrowed from the Banshees “Love In A Void”, although not intentional I imagine. It’s much faster and powerful than Little Man and the snarly vocal again remains audible. A lyrical theme we can all allude to at some point in our lives. A chugging guitar beat is matched to hard hitting and a vocal that lurches from fast to furious. Lauren bellows that vocal with spite and anger and one guesses she really means it! “World Against She” has more than a passing nod to L7. Loud, angry and brash vocals; growled over yet more swirling guitars. Again the screech is present, most notably in the chorus. Lauren scrapes the very base of her lungs for that chorus but you get the picture, this ain’t no “pop chart girlie frontwoman”, this girl can really sing!

If you the listener were hoping for a little “let up” in proceedings, forget it! “Oh Shit” bellows the chorus almost immediately over a clicky bass accompaniment. This is a staple live track, easy to remember and sing along to. Raw, stretched chords in the bridge are followed by a lengthy “ooooooh shit”; while the song itself comes to an abrupt end. ‘Under The Bed’ begins with a fast, clangy guitar intro that just accelerates alongside the clicky bass in the background. The drums are also huge in this humourous little ditty about “Monsters” – need I say more!

“Eating Simon” returns to more sinister themes-just one read of the lyrics is needed, then make your own mind up! “Plasters” sits in the same vein-I’m confused somewhat by the lyrics but you the listener can decide. A piano-led intro gives way to a build up of big hitting. Lauren’s vocal here is unapologetically dark, alongside some clangy guitars. More yelps and screams abound but all the time the vocals are clear, right up until the song fades to the end.

Hands Off Gretel

Penultimate song “Push The Girl” begins slower with a low tempo and gentle picking. I’m guessing this could be autobiographical, or maybe more great fiction. Anyway, it works on all levels. More chimes in the background while the vocal only gets stronger and louder towards the end. The song ends as it starts, low tempo and just fading to nothing. Final track “Awfully Miserable” is neither! Beginning with that clangy sound again and throughout it slowly builds to the heavy mid-section. Huge drums kick in while the bass and guitars suddenly get louder. The chorus alone will leave one in no doubt where the song’s sentiment lies; “Bash My Brains Out, I’m So Bored; Bash My Brains Out On The Floor”. A song of frustration maybe but a decent song to end on.

While other reviews and reviewers seem to want to focus solely on the one big female musical influence, I feel Lauren and her bandmates have enough about them to carve their own musical niche. Yes it’s “Girl/Grunge” if you like, but there are many other genre influences including Punk/Goth/Riot Grrrl to name three. Where Hands Off Gretel seem to flourish is to take a sound that has remained dormant for a few years, and create something quite unique of their own. It would have been so easy to just cobble together an album around their early EP’s but no; they have made a decent first LP, self-financed through pledge and toured their arses off the length and breadth of the UK. On the basis of this LP I feel they can expand their sound when making album number two. Only time will tell but the buzz around Hands Off Gretel already seems to suggest they’re here for the long haul. A spot at next years Rebellion Festival secured; and sales of nearly 1000 copies of what is a “DIY” release, show this band are making waves.

Queen of The Universe
One Eyed Girl
Bad Egg
Little Man
Always Right
World Against She
Under The Bed
Oh Shit
Eating Simon
Push The Girl
Awfully Miserable


Review by Ross A. Ferrone.

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