Girlpool — Powerplant (May 12th, 2017)
••• The duo’s sophomore album turns observation into an art form. Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker.
Location: Los Angeles, California
Album release: May 12th, 2017
Record Label: ANTI–/EPITAPH
01 123 2:50
03 Corner Store
04 Your Heart
05 Kiss and Burn
06 Fast Dust
08 High Rise
10 She Goes By
11 Its Gets More Blue 3:26
12 Static Somewhere
• Cleo Tucker (guitar, vocals) and
• Harmony Tividad (bass, vocals)
• Written and arranged by Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker
• Drums by Miles Wintner
• Album art by Jaxon Demme
• Recorded by Drew Fischer at Comp~ny in Los Angeles
• Mastered by Heba Kadry at Timeless Mastering, Brooklyn, NY
••• Life has been a whirl for Girlpool since the release of their acclaimed 2015 debut Before the World Was Big. Shortly before the record came out, Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker relocated from their hometown of Los Angeles all the way across the country to Philadelphia, where they quickly became embedded in the local D.I.Y. scene. “Before BTWWB, I was just out of high school, living in my old neighborhood,” recalls Cleo Tucker. “Then we started touring in a way we’d never done before. I really started to experience the duality that was beginning to exist in my life: tour/not on tour.” After a chaotic and informative year spent floating around the East Coast, both bandmates moved home to California at the start of 2017. Girlpool have been seemingly everywhere at once, exploring all the world’s offerings with open minds and notebooks. All the lessons they learned, about the earth and about themselves, are gathered together in their sophomore record and ANTI– debut, Powerplant.
••• Over 10 days in August 2016, Girlpool holed up at Los Angeles’ Comp~ny studios to record and mix Powerplant with Drew Fischer. For the first time, Harmony and Cleo were joined by a third performer, drummer Miles Wintner, a friend who easily meshed with the tightknit duo. The decision to add percussion came as a natural decision for Harmony and Cleo; “Cleo and I just were driving down the New Jersey turnpike when she mentioned that it might be exciting to expand our sound for the new songs,” says Harmony. “The songs we were writing had the potential of getting really climactic,” adds Cleo. “I think percussion adds a new part of the musical dynamic that we want to explore.” Girlpool’s eagerness to evolve should come as no surprise; in the same way that there were little traces of their self~titled EP on BTWWB, on Powerplant, the pair shed their old skins with more eagerness than before. “In some ways I feel more courageous and mature and in other ways I feel smaller and softer, sometimes even more fragile than ever,” says Harmony, adding that while the inner self is always changing, ultimately the end is a closer self~truth.
••• The 12 tracks that compose Powerplant grow and burn with greater fire than the duo have possessed heretofore. Both bandmates were heavily inspired by Elliott Smith, the Cranberries, the Cocteau Twins, Brian Eno, Arthur Russell, and Graham Nash; the influence of each appear in the record’s deliberate and intricate guitar work (“Fast Dust,” “She Goes By”) as well as its embrace of dissonant noise (“Corner Store,” “Soup”). Though they were living apart for most of the writing process, the pair still managed to write all but four songs together, another testament to their dedication to Girlpool and each other. Now 21 and 20, Harmony and Cleo confront projections, despondency, apathy, romanticization, love, and heartbreak with a more devastating emotional pragmatism than before. “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,” they sing on opener “123,” perfectly refracting the truth. More humorous (but still heavily symbolic) lines are delivered with equal poignancy, like Harmony’s disclaimer on “It Gets More Blue,” “The nihilist tells you that nothing is true/I said I faked global warming just to get close to you.” © Photo credit: Molly Matalon
BY GEOFF NELSON ON MAY 08, 2017, 6:00 AM / SCORE: B+
••• There’s a small but telling moment on “123”, the first song on the sophomore full~length, Powerplant, from Girlpool. The band’s duo of Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad, separated by an octave, sing, “While the moth doesn’t talk/ But in the dress the holes you saw. The song grapples with absence — that the dress could best be known by its holes, that the moth could best be known by its damage. It’s a subtle inversion, a bit of negative space in which to rest for a moment. The line even inverts the grammar from the correct “the holes you saw in the dress.” Everywhere on Powerplant, Girlpool explore the energy and shape of contrariety and emptiness.
••• The big story on Powerplant is that Tividad and Tucker, once a guitar~and~bass~only duo, have added drums for the first time. This new bombast arrives less than a minute into “123”. The drums, however, remain mixed well below their guitars throughout the record, as if to indicate that even when adding, the duo takes away. The energy of the band, historically and here, relies on the dynamism and vulnerability of Tividad and Tucker — the way they lean toward each other in high~wire harmonies and life~affirming chord resolutions. On Powerplant, their voices, not unlike the drums, are mixed down in the recording. The bracing sound of their duet on 2015’s “Chinatown” is absent almost everywhere here. For a band adding a rhythm section, Girlpool often sounds muted and restrained. Even on the down~stroke rocker “It Gets More Blue”, the aesthetic is that of withholding. Girlpool once defined their punk as maximum vulnerability, and it seems the band divine their new energy and edge by what they won’t do.
••• According to Tividad and Tucker, the songs for Powerplant are the first they’ve written independently of one another. While the arrangements show collaboration, the lyrics sound like the work of the lonely mind. Powerplant is full of the solo enterprise of watching: On “Your Heart”, they sing, “Looking at the mess I made and staring at the counter,” on “Kiss and Burn”, “I watched you pick up footsteps from the dirt,” on “Fast Dust”, “I watched her get so high makeup sinks into her spine”, and on “It Gets More Blue”, “I’m watching from the bodegas on the street.” Powerplant runs less than a half~hour, and yet it uses some variation of “look,” “see,” “stare,” and “watch” more than 20 times. While Tucker and Tividad often write oblique lyrics, snapshots of life’s small things, inside of all these accumulated banalities lies the truth of their process: They are observers. All artists observe to some degree, but the genius of Tividad and Tucker makes watching itself the art form.
••• Tellingly, Girlpool spends most of Powerplant looking outward, not inward — another inversion. They build their observations in the hope of articulating conflicted internal life. On the quiet~loud~quiet “Corner Store”, they get lost among the objects of the store, musing, “I get stuck on the things I see,” which is as good a bodega allegory for the pain of getting older as you’ll ever hear. On “Soup”, a song which starts with someone throwing out soup and mulling over the great weight of the world, Tucker and Tividad bite hard on the lyric “Come over to my place, I’ll help you find your fix / You have lots of potential, can you feel it?” It’s a wry moment, perhaps even a self~conscious one for a band who began as teenagers, where the song’s protagonist feels trapped between a current and future self. Like the moth and the dress, they suggest that youth could best be understood by its passing, that growing up could best be understood by its sense of implacable loss.
••• This, politely, is a delightful nowhere. On Powerplant closer, “Static Somewhere”, Tucker and Tividad sing, “Tell me you are here/ I hope I’ll find you static somewhere,” articulating the here and nowhere inversion appearing with such frequency on the album. Not old and not young, not well~known and not obscure, a duo without and now with drums, Girlpool can only broadcast from the places that aren’t exactly places. Could consciousness be derived from simply substantiating the world around oneself? Could the emptiness of the self be offset by the fullness of the world? There’s power in absence, if you learn to see it. Stuck, watching, Girlpool now find energy from where and what they are not.
••• Essential Tracks: “123”, “It Gets More Blue”, and “Static Somewhere”