Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week's album is Powerplant, the sophomore album from Girlpool.
Much of the appeal of Girlpool up until now was simple and inherent. They’ve never been more than two stringed instruments, two friends singing plainly and candidly, and they’ve never needed to be more. Think back to the most emotionally intimate moment you can remember. For most people, it probably involves a conversation between you and another person—nervous musings on a walk with your best friend, a 2 a.m. call to the most important person in your life, unfiltered fragments that walked out of your mouth as you were falling asleep one night. Often accidental and messy, these moments between two people are confession, therapy, redemption, the way we make sense of the mess around us, and, sometimes, our only slivers of unfettered honesty in our day-to-day lives.
Since they came on the scene with their 2014 EP Girlpool, and their 2015 debut full-length Before The World Was Big, Girlpool has been these moments. In a sea of kids making Bandcamp-worthy lo-fi punky bedroom pop, they made musical minimalism and lyrical nudity pack an emotional punch in a manner that an entire marching band and full chamber orchestra combined couldn’t muster. On Powerplant, their first album with a full band out on Anti-, Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker have an obviously fuller sound, but they managed to hold onto the unparalleled intimacy that drew people into Girlpool in the first place. The additional instrumentation allows them to build higher than they ever could, but only relative to the curved softness they do so well.
Amongst the thicker arrangement lies a constant teenage musical dishevelment and simple, powerful language that echoes the sugary wound of youth. The opener, and the album’s first single, “123,” uses simple language, reminiscent of a kids book: “1,2,3 will you list it off to me? / How you’re sorry you feel weird in a jubilation dream.” But in its childlike vulnerability, it describes the complex two-way pull of a toxic relationship, the quiet way love and devotion can eat away at you (“The moth doesn’t talk, but in the dress the holes you saw”). But unlike Girlpool’s music before Powerplant-- which fared best as whispers, or at most a two-person shout--the track builds into mess drums over substantial bass, echoing the regret of hurting someone you care about: “And you’re sorry ‘bout the load / feeling sorry ‘bout the load.”
On track after track, Tucker and Tividad pinpoint everything that so few people have had the words for—feeling dangerously stagnant in “Soup,” crumbled expectations and unequal desire in “Kiss and Burn” and “It Gets More Blue,” changing perceptions on “High Rise”—and translates them into plainly beautiful songs full of messy and unpretentious youthful honesty everybody can understand. Plain eloquence is something they’ve always done, but the addition of a whole band on Powerplant, along with the growth that time has given the band, has allotted them the space to do it on an elevated scales. Girlpool’s still the raw conversation between two souls, but on Powerplant they’re a whisper and a yell, a hum and a belt, and every scale on which honesty’s allowed to exist.
Amileah Sutliff is a New York-based writer, the Head of Editorial at Vinyl Me, Please and an editor of the book The Best Record Stores in the United States.
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