Brooklyn’s Habibi are the latest in a long line of all-female punk bands who update early-’60s girl-group sounds, but their touch is lighter than their peers. Lenny Lynch doesn’t add the usual distortion and sustain to her guitar; she tends to focus on one or two notes at a time over conventional chords, and often supplies twanging sounds from her lower strings. Erin Campbell’s bass generates even more streamlined rhythms, often thumping out the same note for a measure or four. Drummer Karen Isabel favors tom toms and sometimes cymbals, avoiding the high-hat’s click-clack.
There’s mystery in their minimalism, however, and it leaves plenty of space for lead vocalist and bandleader Rahill Jamalifard. Raised in Detroit by Iranian-American parents, she sometimes alludes to her Persian background in song, like in “Persepolis,” an atypically strummed near-ballad written about her grandfather living outside the famed historical ruins. The sugar-lipped protagonist of her Twist-ready “Detroit Baby” is unambiguously a dude, but mostly she sings about other women, and does so with words of observation, admiration, bemusement and maybe even love. “She’s wrong to the right people” goes the chorus of slinky closing cut “Gone Like Yesterday.” “If she asks for a lighter/ Please just act like you don’t know her,” Jamalifard advises in the suitably feisty “Tomboy.”
Like many garage-rockers, Jamalifard shrouds her casual, nearly conversational vocals in reverb, and the echo sometimes clouds her straightforward words. On the Velvet Underground-ian ballad “She Comes Along,” she multi-tracks her croon as Lynch softly arpeggios on her guitar, each element equally wistful. The sassier first single, “Sweetest Talk,” sums up everything Habibi in two minutes and change. Guitar, bass and vocals all follow the same simple jump-rope melody as Jamilifard flips the girl group convention of falling head over heels over bad boys. Instead, she’s besotted with a worldly lass who walks and talks sweet, but flaunts stolen jewelry. Her destination’s unknown, but the singer sure hopes to share it.