It’s been quite a year for Girlpool, the band formed by Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad that doesn’t need a drummer to make some serious noise. Having initially released their self-titled debut EP on Bandcamp early last year, they’ve seen a big surge in prominence following a re-release on Wichita Recordings and many hours of putting in the work touring across America and Europe as well as relocating from LA to Philadeplhia, home of many of their music contemporaries. Still just teenagers, the duo just released their debut album Before The World Was Big a few weeks ago and with them returning to UK shores in September with a surprising support slot from friends and excellent in their own right Quarterbacks, was it worth the wait?
Definitely, but be warned that if you came to the EP just for the biting, two-person punk then you may be a little let down by the shift in tone by this debut album. Not that all of that’s gone, but if the Girlpool EP was raw power, then Before The World Was Big is a more sparse and layered production. Anyone who’s seen the band on any of their recent dates can ascertain to that, but thankfully it works really well. The songs are more relaxing and suited to warm Summer nights, but the personality and feelings within the lyrics is still there. If anything it shows just how much the duo can do with just a guitar and bass, shifting from punk to acoustic where the song requires it and part of it just feels like a case of the two progressing as musicians.
And there is variety here. Songs can range from the quiet and low-key like Dear Nora to big and affirmative in the likes of Crowded Stranger and Chinatown which demonstrates the ranges of both Cleo and Harmony, choosing to keep their vocals in the background or at the forefront at will. There’s a lovely warm, fuzzy feeling that comes from the album too, with a pretty clean tone across the board and is definitely a summer album in every sense of the word. Thematically it does tend to focus on growing up given the album’s title and that makes perfect sense given the growing up that Girlpool are doing privately and in public through their music, in a strange and complicated world.
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The title track speaks to the repetition of the the things you used to do as a kid and whether you truly showed your affection to your parents (‘Mum and Dad I love you, do I show it enough?’) and Chinatown looks more inwards (‘do you feel restless when you realise you’re alive?’). Whether times have changed or it was always the case, there isn’t a rulebook for how you’re supposed to move from teenager to functioning adult and it’s not as if our trials and tribulations just disappear overnight. Relationships, our place in the world, social injustices, we have to address them, in songs in this case. This isn’t unique to Girlpool but it’s refreshing to hear and more relevant than some leather jacket wearing lad’s band living in a cartoon world where equality hasn’t moved past the 70s and singing the same old crap we’ve heard from the leather jacket, mop heads before them.
To rely to heavily on puns, it’s the harmony present on this album and in general that really make Girlpool special though. It’s not something you think about too often with a band, but Cleo and Harmony have such a connection as friends that they compliment each other perfectly, whether that’s trading off vocals in songs, the inter-weaving of their respective instruments or yes, their beautiful, beautiful harmonies. It’s hard to imagine just how difficult it must be to make a band that sounds engaging with no drummer whatsoever, so for them to achieve that but with such grace and depth is to be admired, and I’d have my doubts about whether they could pull it off so well if they weren’t so in tune with each other in the first place. All of this is captured in smooth fashion with Kyle Gilbride once again at the controls, not long after producing Waxahatchee’s excellent Ivy Tripp earlier this year. (There better be a new Swearin’ record this year though!)
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Before The World Was Big is both an impressive debut from Cleo and Harmony but also a risk that pays off, becoming a bit more complex in their music but without putting off the people who enjoy the raw energy of their debut EP. Whereas most ‘bands’ would feel naked without the presence of a drummer, it’s not even something that’s thought about here, they make just as much of an impression with just a guitar, bass, powerful voices and intensely personal lyrics. If this is what Girlpool are capable of before the world was big then it’s just as exciting what they can do next in this big world.