Release Date: Jun 2, 2015
Record label: Wichita
Emerging from the Los Angeles indie underground in 2014, Girlpool sounded like no other act, employing a deceptively simple formula to deliver their raw tales of teenage woe, joy, and confusion. Using just electric guitar and bass to accompany their voices, Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad delivered a brief self-titled EP that was heartfelt, funny, powerful, and twice as punk at half the volume. Seeking a change of pace, the two friends relocated to Philadelphia at the end of the year, where they teamed up with Kyle Gilbride (Swearin', Waxahatchee) to record their full-length debut, Before the World Was Big.
Although born and raised in Los Angeles, Girlpool's Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad recently made the move to Philadelphia, weaving their way into the DIY scene that spawned the likes of Waxahatchee, Swearin' and Radiator Hospital — and if their debut LP, Before the World Was Big, is any indication, they seem to be settling in just fine. The duo made the wise choice of roping in Swearin' frontman Kyle Gilbride to produce the record, who maintains the lo-fi, punk-tinged aesthetic of previous singles, EPs and live sets. But make no mistake — it's Tucker and Tividad's unique sound that leaves a lasting impression on the listener.
By way of their self-titled EP, Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad have already established themselves as formidably honest songwriters. After the duo burst onto the scene in a brash flurry of name-calling and snarling ‘Blah Blah Blah’s, Girlpool’s debut takes a surprisingly introspective turn. Though their debut album initially seems a more subdued, less confrontational affair, don’t let first impressions mislead.
I remember the exact moment my parents left me alone at my new university halls. Surrounded by a box full of cheese graters, shower poufs and those IKEA mugs where the handles are just a bit too small to function properly, I was 18 and essentially alone in this world for the first time. As I looked around my boxed, clinical room, there was the relief of leaving the mundanity of my hometown, the excitement of stepping foot in a new city and the difficult decision whether to accept that nu-rave invitation (it was 2007, the Klaxons were still a thing).
Girlpool have a message for anyone who thinks there’s something unappealing about two LA girls lamenting their teenage feelings in earsplitting unison: up yours. Guitarist Cleo Tucker, 18, and bassist Harmony Tividad, 19, haven’t made an overtly angry debut album (it’d be pretty hard without a drummer). But, as their lo-fi lullaby riffs and snappy lyrics paste together scrapbook collages of childhood nostalgia (‘Before The World Was Big’), sleepy road trips (‘Dear Nora’) and tricky friendships (‘Emily’), they create something that sounds truly rebellious.
The tiniest notes, the biggest sentiments: Girlpool make songs that feel audaciously small, like an eyedropper pointed toward the heavens. The 10 songs on Before the World Was Big not only employ a bare minimum of chords (two, pretty much always) but a minimum of notes. If you’d never held a guitar, or even seen one, you could be gently coached to play "Ideal World", the album’s opening track, within three minutes of being handed one.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. I have reached that point in my life where I haven't so much given up but accepted that I won't be certain things. I've accepted that I won't play up front for Chelsea or that I won't be a nobel prize winner.
Girlpool wants the whole world. Like a lot of people in their late teens and early twenties, Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker feel the yawn of the future opening up beneath them. They haven’t turned 20 yet and already they play their stripped-down, wiry rock songs like they’re running out of time. “Do you feel restless when you realize you’re alive?” they ask on “Chinatown”.
Girlpool's existential two-chord nursery rhymes make even the sparsest Breeders record look like Pink Floyd. This minimalist album sounds as if anti-folk heroes The Moldy Peaches had replaced Adam Green with an extra Kimya Dawson. Lyrically, it serves as a poignant reminder that the trauma of growing old is firmly rooted before you even enter your 20s.
Much like a certain overwrought island drama, the dramatic tension of Girlpool’s debut LP Before the World Was Big comes about because its main characters have to go back. Unlike Lost, the Philadelphia-based indie pop duo is concerned not with a return to a secluded world of violence and mystery but the sunny, welcoming oasis of adolescence. Full of misty-eyed idealism, Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker construct Blake-ian (but not Bono-vian) songs of innocence — creaky cries for a return to the greener grass of the recent past.
Girlpool’s debut is the sound of young hearts crossing the shaky walkway that runs between childhood and adulthood, from the warm, womblike security of the family nest to the bright lights, fast nights, and love bites of the big city. It’s a lonely and strange journey over a bridge as well worn and perilous as the one at the end of Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom. It’s a rickety rite of passage rife with mild peril, nervous excitement, and the occasional Thuggee guard.
There are really only two routes that bands consisting of just two members can go. They can go for the all guns blazing approach and create enough noise to make critics question whether their sound is truly produced by only two members – something successfully achieved recently by Royal Blood and Drenge; and The White Stripes and The Black Keys before them. Or, alternatively, they can take the minimal approach.
Girlpool show how punk a band can get with just two women, a guitar, a bass and two raging hearts. Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad come from the Los Angeles underground scene, working a vibe that goes back to the Softies or Marine Girls — raw, minimal, yet emotionally fierce. After an excellent debut EP in 2014, their first full-length is loaded with moments of offhand intimacy ("We sat on cold concrete/I could only stare at my feet") and caustic wit ("You are the yellow paint holding onto fire escapes").
What possibly would a balding, middle class, suburban, 33-year old father get out of an album made by a pair of girls just shy of 20? Turns out, quite a bit. It’s been 15 years since I was their age and, frankly, I’ve buffed and waxed many of the scrapes and scratches from that time. Before The World Was Big roughed me up a bit; I almost resent Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad for it, but they’ve armed me for the same types of moments my son will experience 15 years from now.
The last words sung by Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad, in the final seconds of Girlpool’s 24-minute first album, are these: “My mind is almost 19 and I still feel angry/Is it pouring out my body, my nervous aching.” On the words “angry” and “aching,” their hollering voices are set a minor-third apart. Who’s who? I had to watch a video of them singing it: Ms. Tucker sings the higher note.
Girlpool is Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker, two friends who can charm a listener in two minutes using just a guitar, bass and vocal harmonies. The duo cut their teeth at L.A. all-ages DIY space the Smell and then moved to Philadelphia to record their debut LP. Before The World Was Big is a collection of lo-fi pop ditties about childhood, adulthood and the in-between - an awkward, anxious stage the teenagers are still navigating.