Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad’s edgy, cool-chick rocker duo Girlpool are two things deemed among the scariest in American lexicon today: young and feminist. Their songs, hits such as “American Beauty” and “Blah Blah Blah,” ooze sexual agency and an awareness of the male gaze; others, like “Slutmouth,” address issues like slut-shaming head-on. Their punky vibes have drawn many a Kathleen Hanna comparison (as any girl holding a Strat will for the next 50 years), but just look at their “Chinatown” video and you’ll see a more playful, nonchalant, stripped-down aesthetic, almost emanating a Girls-type realism.
That’s why on their new album, Before The World Was Big, listeners are kind of in for a shock. The Girlpool vibe—bare-bones, easygoing—is still there, but it’s also an aggressively honest tribute to childhood. And, admittedly, it’s sort of hard to get that message on a first listen. Riot grrrls are supposed to be flippant and wear red lipstick, one thinks; Girlpool starts its title track with a xylophone and unhinged stream-of-consciousness lyrics like, “My brain’s like a rolling snowball/I’m a firetruck.” Is it too simple or too deep?
On the other hand, anyone who remembers a confusing childhood can relate to Before The World Was Big—it’s like if Forrest Gump went punk rock. The music could easily accompany a scene from Juno or a 13-year-old’s ultimate Judy Blume day. The album’s first song, “Ideal World,” is almost a rock version of The Bangles’ “Manic Monday,” with its crawling bass, and “things are okay” mantra.
Their album is perfect loud-yet-chill music, with a bit of innocent existentialism to chew on. In this aspect, songs like “Cherry Picking” and “Crowded Stranger” have the appeal of well-thought-out grunge. Just listen to the apathetic, albeit folksy delivery of lyrics like, “I’ll pretend that you care/That I have somehow disappeared” and you might hear a faint, Cobain-ish shadow. Still, it lacks polish, smoothness, and much of Tucker and Tividad’s harmony seems deliberately dissonant. They’re not trying to be cute, just uncomplicated: all you get is a bass, a guitar, and total abandonment of any verse-chorus structure. Their lyrics drip slowly through their songs, almost as if a child’s observations were distilled into one tight poetic verse.
At the same time, the album’s subtlety makes one miss the political forwardness of their first EP. “Jane” had its girlish screams but could still make for a fine gateway to Sleater-Kinney or Bratmobile. Before The World Was Big doesn’t need to yell to be heard, but for those who know what came before, we selfishly wish they would anyway. In fact, songs like “Dear Nora,” or “Pretty” and “Emily” near the end of the 10 songs, are practically whispered into your ear. Then again, perhaps the Prozac feel has its place. Maybe this is the future riot grrrl, and Girlpool has shown us the way, or some way, at least. Ultimately, they’re what you listen to at the end of the day coming back from the rave, when you’ve exhausted the adult world.
In A Word: Young