James Kemmy discusses the promising and versatile debut from a rising Irish star
Twenty-six year old Dubliner, Orla Gartland has been on the periphery of a musical breakthrough for the last number of years. With two EPs released in 2015 and 2019 respectively, along with a soundtrack feature in the ‘Normal People’ television series, the London-based musician has undoubtedly garnered a notable degree of hype in recent times. With her childhood roots in traditional folk music and subsequent inspiration by artists ranging from Joni Mitchell to Avril Lavigne, Gartland’s full-length debut is refreshingly eclectic.
Written and co-produced by Gartland herself on her independent label, Woman on the Internet is a purposeful and emotionally diverse account of modern life as a twenty something year old woman. With themes of identity, loneliness, gender and family interlaced throughout, Gartland uses fluctuating confessionalism to her strength. On the confident opening track Things That I’ve Learned, the Dubliner offers both a diaristic and universal life-mantra – “don’t compare your face to the other faces it’s not worth it / take up all the space even when you think you don’t deserve it”, Gartland instructs. She continues in similar fashion on the cleverly deceptive You’re Not Special, Babe, a brilliantly-written earworm which provides heartfelt reassurances as antidotes to feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy.
Despite this energetic optimism, Gartland is unafraid to deal with more introspective and vulnerable subject matter – showcased through the tender midtempo of More Like You, co-produced by Tommy King (HAIM, Vampire Weekend), where she admits to relatable instances of petty jealousy. Similarly, the dejected melancholia of Left Behind illustrates the pain and humiliation of unreciprocated romance. Perhaps Gartland’s greatest asset on this record is her ability to jump from one sound to another whilst also maintaining a sense of skilful cohesion. Transitions in style from punk to bedroom-pop to acoustic to electronica never seem awkward or out of place but instead feel uniquely fresh and leave the listener with a growing curiosity as to what will happen next.
Furthermore, Gartland impressively incorporates big societal themes into private anecdotes, striking a profound lyrical balance. For instance, the frenetic and chant-like Zombie! (no, not a Cranberries cover) uses a personal experience of Gartland’s to illustrate societal pressures that often force men to repress their emotions. Speaking to RTÉ, she commented on the song’s backstory: “It’s about a very common, very male kind of repression I witnessed in a boy I loved once – I could see that he felt things but there was a barrier stopping him from expressing them… I hated that for him”.
On a similar note, Gartland has previously discussed troubling experiences she has had as a young woman in the music industry, and the instances of casual, everyday sexism that she has witnessed. Speaking to NME earlier this year in relation to their Girls to the Front initiative (an online event series promoting and celebrating female and nonbinary musical talent), Gartland called out the gender disparity seen in many music festival line-ups and headline choices. She further commented on the alienation that female musicians can feel even within their own touring environments due to the male-dominated fields of sound engineering, tour management and session musicianship. Despite these setbacks, Gartland remains optimistic about the future of gender equality in music and hopes that the pause in production brought about by Covid will allow festival organisers and industry management to reconsider their approach to this issue.
Woman on the Internet concludes on an intriguing and well-rounded note with the two-part Bloodline / Difficult Things where Gartland reflects on her childhood in Dublin and the subsequent guilt of leaving home to pursue her musical career. Overall, this is a highly impressive and emotionally complex LP debut from the Dubliner. Gartland’s ultimate musical strength lies in just how multi-faceted she is, coming across as strong, vulnerable, genuine, witty, profound, and relatable all at once. While this release is worthy of major praise and entitles Gartland to a period of rest and creative hiatus, she is far from resting on her laurels and is currently touring with English artist Dodie, playing guitar in her band. The future is undoubtedly bright for this remarkably self-assured young musician, and I look forward to hearing her future output.
Listen to You’re Not Special, Babe, More Like You, Zombie! and Madison.