Music Reviews

posted: June 8, 2017

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Girlpool Powerplant

Anti- Records, 45RPM LP or CD

When Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker formally appeared as Girlpool in late 2014, the then-Los Angeles-based duo penned songs that felt like private conversations between teenagers. Their tunes were the sort of works that unfolded like handwritten notes discretely passed in a classroom. Their dual vocals owed as much to harmonizing as answering each other’s sentences.

Deeply personal, surprisingly sarcastic, and offhandedly blunt, Girlpool could be curiously frank when it came to talk of sex and gender identity, but also awkwardly sincere on matters of the heart. When the two sang, “Dear Nora, there’s a lot that’s changed this year” on 2015’s Before the World Was Big, the musicians referred to growing up too fast—not nostalgia.

With just two voices and often, acoustic guitars, Girlpool epitomized the fragility of youth even as the women looked ahead to adulthood. There’s something rather punk about the debut record’s folksy emotional nakedness that recalled the coarse, do-it-yourself aesthetic of early Elliott Smith and Bright Eyes. Rather than going to college, the band continues to lead a soft, earnest resurgence that includes the likes of Julien Baker and Frankie Cosmos.  The tandem has even won the heart of Los Angeles singer/songwriter royalty like Jenny Lewis and keeps a connection to underground venues such as the Smell.

Yet Girlpool should really be considered a noise-rock duo without the noise, preferring the candid power of words instead of distortion. On Poweplant, Girlpool continues to educate listeners with minimal arrangements that don’t say more than they need to—or, rather, let us infer what’s left unsaid. Recorded for hip indie imprint Anti- Records, an off-shoot of punk stalwart Epitaph, Powerplant presents 12 songs in under 30 minutes, some of them needing just four or five stanzas.

Sonically, Girlpool beefs up its sound with drums. Miles Wintner’s percussion adds an explosive jolt that heightens the drama. Newcomers and older fans alike will simply appreciate the way album-opener “123” shifts course at about the 50-second mark, where a calming lullaby of interlocking guitars bursts wide open. And if Tividad and Tucker are poetically abstract in their lyrical approach, they’re also suspicious. “While the moth doesn’t talk/But in the dress the holes you saw,” they sing.

Such anxious wordplay dots the work. “I live in a gallery that no one’s ever seen,” the duo sings on “Sleepless.” On the dreamy and dreary “Soup,” an even more biting statement—“You have lots of potential, can you feel it?”—emerges. The fuller arrangements don’t persuade Girlpool to get louder. Powerplant remains relatively assured in its pop guise.

“Corner Store” owns a bright and peppy circular groove, and “Your Heart” lets a deeply confident bass push the song forward. The wistful vocals of “Kiss and Burn” contrast with themes of loneliness, and Tividad and Tucker let the listener hear each twist, strum, and brush of the guitars. Detail is the key throughout.

Indeed, everything about Girlpool radiates closeness, be it in the chiming urgency of “She Goes By” or slow-evolving, Sunday-morning feel of “It Gets More Blue,” on which the pair sings, “The nihilist tells you that nothing is true/I said I faked global warming just to get close to you.”

The things some of us do for intimacy.

–Todd Martens