Release Date: May 12, 2017
Record label: Anti / Epitaph
"As a society I feel that we perceive softness and vulnerability as traits that are 'weak', and people emotionally disconnect themselves in order to avoid going through everything they feel," explains Harmony Tividad. "I think that what is most important right now is empathy, and in order to have empathy we must first feel what we, ourselves, feel. " It's no surprise then, that Girlpool's sophomore record (and ANTI- debut) Powerplant blisters with the heat of the pair's stripped-back emotions; a burn made all the more torrid as they are wedded with the sentiments the album coaxes from its listeners.
Outside of their native Los Angeles DIY scene, Girlpool first became known for eerie nursery rhymes about standing up to slutshaming and getting eaten out to American Beauty . Still teenagers, the best friend duo of Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad spoke bluntly in dull-knife harmonies and punk primitivism. It was the power of small sounds taking hold.
Naked. That word perfectly sums up the essence of Before the World Was Big, the debut album of the duo Girlpool, a couple of singer/songwriters out of Los Angeles who managed to capture the imaginations of anyone paying attention in a shockingly short amount of time. Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad made an album recalling the same adult angst and overall sense of wonder the likes of The Moldy Peaches managed to capture so deftly, and went on to become indie wunderkinds in the eyes of many.
P art twee folk, part ratty punk, California duo Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker make music that's nostalgic for 90s riot grrrl outfits like the Breeders, while also effusing millennial ennui; Magnifying Glass, from their 2015 debut LP, Before the World Was Big, was 39 frantic seconds of string-plucking and lyrics about wanting to hold the world inside your head, while early single Blah Blah Blah was mostly built around those three words, delivered in a mocking tone. This new record builds on the latent disquiet that bubbles under the surface of Girlpool's nonchalance. Despite the addition of a full band, it still manages to sound like a collection of lullabies.
Lo-fi as a genre marker has swapped connotations over the years. At first, it denoted a low quality of sound (low fidelity), which would indicate a DIY ethic and, therein, a level of authenticity. If it sounded shitty, chances are you were doing things outside corporate influence; there was an implied autonomy, independence and legitimacy to it. But over time, lo-fi lost its credibility, coopted to cash in on the cultural capital of doing things independently.
There's a small but telling moment on "123", the first song on the sophomore full-length, Powerplant, from Girlpool. The band's duo of Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad, separated by an octave, sing, "While the moth doesn't talk/ But in the dress the holes you saw." The song grapples with absence - that the dress could best be known by its holes, that the moth could best be known by its damage. It's a subtle inversion, a bit of negative space in which to rest for a moment.
Girlpool's debut LP, 2015's Before the World Was Big, was something of a declaration of character. The then-Los Angeles duo announced themselves as being openly vulnerable and transparent with a collection of songs that sounded at once goofy, beautiful, and existential. On their first full-length Girlpool recognized that the ultimately trivial can, and often does, feel earth-shattering.
It's been widely noted that Girlpool made a huge leap between their self-titled 2014 EP and their first full-length, Before the World Was Big, which appeared a year later. Their debut was a bare-bones affair consisting of songs that valiantly rested on a couple of chords and their distinctly teenage-sounding voices. But it also signaled a progression toward a more subtle use of their talents compared to the EP's antagonistic approach.
First, a confession. Music journalists don't actually listen to every album that comes out; every album we review, of course, but there simply aren't enough hours in our gig-economy, part-time-contributor week to hear everything. So, when we're faced with someone we don't know that much about, the review process usually starts with going back and sampling as much of that artist's previous output as is practical, to set the new release in its proper context.
Girlpool’s debut was beautifully simple, at least instrumentally. Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker’s tender vocals washed over twisting and turning guitar and bass lines, and showed the pair to be an intriguingly unique proposition. Its follow-up, and the band’s debut on Anti-, sees them aiming for the stars. From the moment opener and debut single ‘123’ fully kicks in with the first drums ever heard on a Girlpool record, ‘Powerplant’ largely leaves the introspection of ‘Before The World Was Big’ behind.
Girlpool are maybe more famous than they set out to be, considering their music sounds best holed up alone in your bedroom at home. Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker's DIY rock duo come from the far Bandcamp end of the Soundcloud vs. Bandcamp spectrum, bearing relatable songs about growing up as a regular gal and learning to be confident while simultaneously figuring yourself out.