Image Credit: Claire Kilcourse
Irish songwriter Orla Gartland acknowledges her musical coming-of-age journey in the early YouTube era with her new album Woman on the Internet. Full of songs that embody early twenties angst, the album is both manic and muted in equal measure. Starting her career in 2009 posting covers on YouTube when she was just 14, she has spent the last 12 years honing a voice and style that culminates in a soundtrack nestled into the specific in-between angst felt by Generation Z and Millennials alike.
Starting out with ‘Things That I’ve Learned,’ a brooding percussion-led track reflecting on the commodification of youth and its consumerism, Gartland offers a fresh perspective on the lamentation of adolescence in a neoliberal age. Gartland inherently genders it in order to address its glamorization in the time of Instagram, which she purposefully wrote as her opener. She explores this further in its slightly more upbeat successor, ‘More Like You,’ in which she sings about an unnamed woman on the internet who tells her to love herself and eat well, harkening to the relentless body positivity movement and wellness culture which breeds toxic bodily comparisons and voyeuristic desperation. Throughout the album, Gartland’s ghostly, echoed backing vocals evoke the ghosts of her musical past, and all that she was susceptible to as a young musician.
Image Credit: Claire Kilcourse
Whilst plenty of the tracks can easily stand alone as singles in their own right, in her album’s narrative, she tells the story of a mental abyss, and lends this to wider discussions of the internet on her peers in her fourth track ‘Zombie!,’ focusing on toxic masculinity and the ‘trauma you hide from the boys.’ The imagery of burning bodies alongside a fast-paced chorus laden with electric riffs brings it to a climax before a slightly softer reflection, one that seems quiet almost out of pity and fear for her peers’ futures. It would be impossible not to read Gartland’s Irishness in these songs, and compare her lyricism to Sally Rooney’s writing, starkly highlighting the loss of love alongside an ever-changing world that you’re supposed to remain static in. Her references to upbringing and returning home as an adult, away from the mess of her own puberty and old relationships are best highlighted in Madison begging an old friend to call her back, in a song that borders almost on the obsessive in the same manner in which we view one-on-one female friendship and the hurt that comes with growing up. When your identity grows and changes from what it once was, you subsequently lose the people who helped form it in the first place, even if it was unbeknownst at the time.
As the album takes a softer turn and relies more heavily on the piano in ‘Do You Mind?’ and ‘Left Behind,’ the pain of childish innocence’s loss is reflected, allowing Gartland’s vocals and their lyrics to take centre stage and showcase her vulnerability in interpersonal relationships that exist outside of being a woman on the internet. She expertly avoids being saccharine in these songs, as could have been the danger. The fear of being left behind by those you love is a real fear that seems to be at the foundation of this whole album. This complements Gartland’s commentary of the state of the world, because if relationships can’t be fixed, how can the rest of the world’s problems be? This is finally confronted in the final track of the album, ‘Bloodline/Difficult Things,’ in which she goes to her family kitchen in Dublin: ‘back to where it all began.’. Using a heavy bass presence, she picks apart her own family to understand her place in the world from the pieces she has been left with. The slight gap, which is filled with the recordings of her own family, before she launches into ‘Difficult Things,’ allows the listener to reflect on the array of emotional turmoil Gartland has laid out on the table, confronting her own identity, role on the internet, and her music. Woman on the Internet is an outlet for her thoughts, allowing comparison to a journal, as she laments that we ‘never talk about difficult things’ and sets out a manifesto of change.
edited by Josh Aberman, Music Editor