Since forming in 2012, Girlpool — Harmony Tividad, then 18, and Cleo Tucker, 17 — have adhered to the age-old maxim that honesty is the greatest policy. Vulnerability, not technical know-how, has always been their greatest asset. The Los Angeles duo’s debut album, 2015’s “Before the World Was Big,” showcases this exceedingly well in its plain-faced lyricism, be it on lead single “Ideal World,” singing, “I feel safest in knowing that I am true / When I look in your eyes, the idea of you,” or through concessions like, “I’m still looking for sureness in the way I say my name / I am nervous for tomorrow and today” on “Chinatown.” On “Powerplant,” the band’s latest full-length, Girlpool is covered on the percussive front by Miles Wintner yet follows the same principles that made their prior work so simplistically rich.
Theoretically, “Powerplant” sheds some of the singularity that made the folky bass-and-guitar act one to keep an eye on. But in supplanting their stripped down artistry the band opens channels yet unexplored, an inevitable progression that blooms naturally. You’d be fooled in thinking they’ve got the same tricks up their sleeves by listening to album opener “123” until around the one-minute mark: With the roll of a snare, the track’s energy expands, inaugurating a dynamism that fits the lead single centered on a “relationship that simultaneously exists as toxic and loving” like a glove.
But the percussion doesn’t only work in service of producing a catchier sound as Girlpool is composing songs differently than they did in 2015; with the exception of one song, all were written last September, a handful of which the duo wrote separate of each other. “Soup” was mesmerizing in its own right, only the newfound kineticism the band introduces with drums and bleary backing guitars make the stormy track all the more enchanting. “She Goes By,” the album’s most breakneck cut, functions similarly as a piece the band couldn’t compose — at least not with the same tumultuous rigor — without the inclusion of a noisy wall of sound and blaring drums to cushion the duo’s ethereal whispers. The earnestness distinctive of “Before the World Was Big” exists simultaneously even among the addition of drums and increased penchant for distorted guitars, but Girlpool’s writing adopts a more figurative approach (“Looking pretty at the wall is my mistake in love installed / While the moth doesn’t talk but in the dress the holes you saw” on “123,” for instance) that’s consistent with some of the best songsmiths whose intentions are more vague, more drenched in symbolic wit.
Notwithstanding the delightful rapport between Tividad and Tucker heard in their hushed vocal delivery, the essence of Girlpool is the arresting sense of emotional tenderness in each of their songs. On “Your Heart,” the group embraces their emo inclinations, singing, “Your mouth is like broken glass it’s the only thing I’m looking at / Sharpless though my newfound nest has walls made of windows” that recalls the youthful fallibility in romantic pursuits — a position that “Corner Store” affirms with its aimless desire for encounters new and inviting. “Powerplant” frequently orbits motifs about the transition from adolescence to adulthood: “The arsonist tells you that it gets more blue / The things you believe in a clay bedroom snooze” they sing in their whispers telling of their Elliott Smith influence, and it’s in those sober observations that Girlpool’s poeticism unmasks their intimate dialogues. Closing track, “Static Somewhere” brims with desire for a life of assurance, and in the search for that dream the duo’s “stillness that hopes” tenderly manifests.
Verdict: The sonic augmentation Girlpool plays with on “Powerplant” unscathes the honesty that make them work so well. The world is still big, Tividad and Tucker still feel just as bewildered in all of life’s absurdity and their sincerity still sounds so harmoniously alluring.
Best Tracks: “123,” “Sleepless,” “She Goes By,” “It Gets More Blue”