Written by: AJ Smyth
Orla Gartland is an alt/indie Irish singer-songwriter in her late twenties. She started off posting covers on her YouTube channel until she was picked up by New Friends record label. Having released several EPs, Woman on the Internet is her first album which came out in 2021.
I was lucky enough to attend one of three Dublin shows played by Orla in the summer of 2022, where I saw the majority of these songs performed. I feel this experience has added to how I listen to the album, and I invite you to read along as I interpret each track.
Track One: Things I’ve Learnt
This song sets up the coming-of-age sound for the album. The gradual intro lowers you into the clever drumbeat and the deeply emotional lyrics which have become a staple for Orla.
The strong and funky bass solo will have you nodding your head, and the great breathless quality to Gartland’s voice is very rousing and engaging as Orla shares her life lessons, such as “take up all the space, even when you think you don’t deserve it.”
The rest of the album takes us on a journey, each song acting as an explanation for these life lessons.
Track Two: You’re Not Special, Babe
Though the title of this song feels demeaning, it has grown to be such a comforting mantra to me; I understand it as reassurance to not take yourself so seriously. The song feels like permission to be your messy self as you go through your twenties. Orla excels at catchy, dynamic bridges, and this one is no exception.
Everyone cries, everyone lies, everyone hates you / Everyone’s so scared of the future, it’s true.
The lyrics offer the message that you’re not alone, and that everyone has felt the same at some point in their lives. During the live performance, the complete hush that fell over the crowd during this bridge before it exploded back into the chorus felt so invigorating.
Track Three: More Like You
Despite having heard another of Orla’s songs on YouTube years ago, I Go Crazy, this was the track that prompted me to listen to the rest of the album. This song is a slight change in tempo; the pace slows as we listen to the envious lyrics sung softly. It’s here we get a hint of Orla’s impressive vocal range. There’s a sense of reverence as well, almost like she’s singing to another version of herself. This song also contains the album title within its lyrics, “I heard it from a woman on the internet”, and this is not the only time Orla does this on her album.
Track Four: Over Your Head
This song opens with a synth beat before it mellows into simple piano notes when Orla starts singing. This song is my screaming-in-the-car, pound-the-steering-wheel song, all while prioritising road safety of course. Throughout the album, I think the drumming is really great. There’s not a track you wouldn’t want to move some part of your body to. I love the conversational theme to the lyrics in this one, and the chorus lets Orla’s voice shine through.
The lyrics at the end of this song embody what it’s like to grow up and into yourself. Somehow, the repetition of “it feels like drowning” in the bridge really adds to this general feeling of overwhelm.
Track Five: Zombie!
This song to me is about anger, and how that feeling can overtake you, especially in moments of heightened emotions. There’s no slow introduction here; we go straight into the upbeat tempo of this song, and during the live performance this was one that had everyone moving. The title, Zombie!, almost feels like it doesn’t fit with the rest of the track list but it plays into the idea that anger demands attention from us, “push it down / And it comes back round again.” Orla really pushes her voice during the repetition of “I hate it,” which embodies this feeling of contempt.
Track Six: Madison
This is my personal favourite on the album. It’s vocally impressive as this song in particular is quite challenging to sing, mellow, but not so much that it could be considered boring, and the lyrics are gorgeous.
The stark honesty and vulnerability in this piece is a little more raw than the others so far. Between the bridge and the final chorus, Orla does this breathless “oh oh oh” that really conveys these emotions beautifully. The concept of “needing” someone is always difficult to admit, and I find the relationship between Orla and the person she’s singing about to be brave. She isn’t afraid to admit she needs them; “I needed you then, now I need you again.”
Track Seven: Do You Mind?
Starting off with delicate piano notes, this song’s percussion echoes a heartbeat. It’s a really elegant effect between Orla’s voice, the piano, and the tempo. This song rests on the softer side of the album. As we go down the tracklist, the Orla’s vulnerability increases, and this one is no exception; it feels like a confession to a past romantic partner. I really like how it feels as though we’re let inside Orla’s mental state during this.
The lyrics are so relatable for anyone who has gone through a break-up. I love this idea of asking for permission or confirmation to move on that is presented in the lyric: “do you mind that I stopped asking?” The increase in pace during this track reflects the almost frantic emotion, and I like that correlation. The ending re-enforces the idea that most relationships end when someone stops reaching out.
Track Eight: Codependency
We are dropped straight into this song without any build-up. Loud backing vocals, guitar, and drums, and then Orla comes in with the opening lyric, “I’m not happy if you’re not happy,” setting the premise for the song perfectly titled Codependency. The lack of introduction to this song makes me feel like I’m placed in the middle of a very intense relationship. The lyrics talk about reaching a point in a relationship, recognising how toxic it is, and that you are somewhat responsible for it. But underlining this, the vocal power, and pacing of the song helps highlight the sense of desperation. I think the listener understands Orla isn’t ready for the relationship to end.
Again, the honesty in the lyricism is so attractive. There are times when I hear her lyrics and think she’s taken them straight from my mind. This relatability comes through significantly in the lyrics; “tell me I’m perfect, tell me I’m worth it.”
Track Nine: Pretending
Pretending slows us right down, calming the mood as we near the end of the album. This song also contains the line from the title, and I always feel clever when I catch that. This song is also very relatable. Here Orla talks about reaching a point as you grow up where you’re recognising you have been pretending to know what you’re doing, and you haven’t been yourself—and it’s “exhausting.” She throws down a gauntlet as she refuses to pretend anymore. This brings us back to the idea that each song represents one of the “things” she’s learnt from the opening track, Things I’ve Learnt. This song is dynamic and catchy, and definitely an earworm.
Track Ten: Left Behind
Opening with a voiceover, this feels like we are getting ready to say goodbye as Orla says “Alright, let’s go” before the music starts. The title preempts this, but this song is incredibly sad and heavy. There’s a level of nostalgia you can see carried out to the very last note on the album. The theme of leaving and letting things go despite how painful it can be is prominent in the lyrics. It’s slow, ebbing and flowing so beautifully that you’ll find yourself swaying incidentally.
Despite the slow pace, it’s filled with power, vocally and lyrically. The raw emotion is captivating and builds to the line “left behind” where each syllable is matched with piano notes. It is a really brilliant choice for the second-to-last song.
Track Eleven: Bloodline / Difficult Things
To me, this song is the most emotional. The familial theme within it is brought to life by the audio of home-videos from Orla’s childhood, acting as a bridge between the two parts of the song, Bloodline and Difficult Things. I think the way this song is split is clever and innovative. The message of this song revolves around leaving home, the concept of bloodlines, and knowing where you came from; “trace it / Back to where it all began.” It’s about remembering where you started and looking back with a different perspective as a different person.
It’s about trying to find your own identity outside of that environment and escaping patterns of generational trauma, “You can leave it all behind / Skip a beat in the bloodline”, which as someone in their early twenties, I really relate to. Choosing to end the album with this song was genius. It sits with you long after you’ve heard it, and I think that’s something every artist should want to achieve.