words: Sarah Hojsak
A few months ago, when Girlpool unveiled “123,” the first single off their sophomore album Powerplant, something took everyone by surprise that usually isn’t so much of a shock: the presence of drums. This new addition to the duo’s sound – formerly comprised of just guitar and bass backing Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad’s voices singing in unison – is not so much a departure for the L.A.-based group as it is a sign of their growth. Their distinctive vocals aside, Girlpool is one of those bands that’s always marveled at for their ability to stand out among other musicians, maybe partly because of their age – Tucker and Tividad were teenagers when 2015’s Before The World Was Big was released. Powerplant is a testament to where Girlpool, now in their early 20s, have been the past few years, and where they intend to go.
Twelve tracks long, Powerplant clocks in at just 28 minutes, and when those drums kick in a minute into “123,” the tone is set for the rest of the record. The songs are short but potent, each is strong on its own but they come together beautifully as a cohesive whole in the kind of way that allows you to listen to this album on repeat seamlessly (I’ve been doing just that for the past few weeks). Girlpool may have a bigger, more filled-out sound with this release, but Powerplant maintains the duo’s ability to pair their refined use of vocals with songwriting that comes alive in distinctive vignettes. On shorter, smaller tracks like “Fast Dust” and “High Rise,” Girlpool keep their sound soft and hushed, but the songs are no less powerful for it – Tividad and Tucker’s voices remain the central feature in all the songs and are goosebump-inducing whether singing higher in their range in softer intertwining harmonies or belting in unison, on songs like “123,” lines like “Looking pretty at the wall is my mistake in love installed.” Louder, reverb-filled moments on “Corner Store” and “Static Somewhere” add further variance to the small moments that bring the album together.
On Before The World Was Big, Girlpool asked introspective questions like “Do you feel restless when you realize you’re alive?”, the uncertainty and vulnerability of which evaporate a bit on Powerplant, though the self-reflection this provoked still lingers. Girlpool’s new sound may be less jarring and urgent then when they demanded “Eat me out to American Beauty,” but their words, crafted around observations and experiences framed in the way only Girlpool can, are no less memorable. Tucker and Tividad share songwriting duties as well as vocals, and while the duo reportedly wrote this album more separately from each other than before, they both have the remarkable skill of making phrases so seemingly idiosyncratic something we as listeners can understand in our own way, interpret for ourselves and make our own. One of Powerplant’s best lyrical moments comes on the haunting, crescendo-ing “It Gets More Blue,” with the lines “The chase is trite as the story I stage / a projection I write in a book on a page / but I won’t do what I ought to / that vacant stare I make to fool you / I’m watching from bodegas on the street / and I’ll say just barely how highly I can think” – a confrontation of the struggle of authenticity that resonates with anyone who rests most comfortably in the role of the observer. With contemplations like this, Girlpool remain remarkably self-aware, defining their own world while still searching for something that may be out there: be it in plain sight between the shelves at the corner store, or somewhere among what they coin the “static somewhere.”