“I thought I found myself today” is the opening line from Before The World Was Big, the 2015 debut from duo Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad. They formed Girlpool as teenagers still figuring out their lives, and infused that wide-eyed discovery into their music. Armed with only a bass, guitar, and their two-person chorus, they located a singular sound that was both delicate and blunt with an unapologetically honest fashion. With all of their purposeful subtleties laid as groundwork, their combined vocals that opined on their collective experiences and wonder pushed off and soared.
That speciality quickly became the signature of Girlpool was dashed immediately with the first single on their followup album. “123” begins innocently as a plaintive tune utilizing their warmly blended voices. Almost eager to break expectation, a drumroll snaps through the passive air and their tone floods with vitality: “Looking pretty at the wall/ Is my mistaken love installed?” The flipping of a switch from minimalist aesthetic to a calculated dynamism is a decision that has inverse results. With a backing rhythm, Tucker and Tividad can better explore possibility, both in their music and their themes. Yet what made Girlpool stand out among the indie landscape was their no-frills distinctiveness. The question remains: will Powerplant still attract attention without their former idiosyncrasies?
Scattered through the songs on Powerplant are moments of exploration as the duo actively tinker with Girlpool 2.0. “Sleepless” works well as a mid-tempo drifter, pairing their swaying harmonies in between dollops of smeared feedback. Their investigation of mid-90s alt-rock sparkles on tracks like “Kiss and Burn”, making for needed tentpoles of pop highlights throughout the album. The true standout here for Tucker and Tividad is “Soup” where they slink along swirling minor chords and their vocals are delivered with tense austerity. “Come over to my place/ I’ll help find your fix/ You have lots of potential/ Can you feel it” suggests a cynicism not yet heard from Girlpool as well as a gradual nudge into more mature subject matter.
At times, Tucker and Tividad’s experiments are merely the actions of two budding musicians still discovering what flourishes stick best against their new sonic wallpaper. The innocent beginning of “Corner Store” is a ruse as they dump a 20-second bout of dissonance in the middle of the track. The offense is not in the sudden noise, but the lack of connective tissue to the song’s theme. Girlpool even reflects back to their original, beat-less sound on “High Rise”, but without the upfront vocal mixing, the attempts minimalism loses its bold flavor. What is missing most throughout this effort is the raw distinctiveness that Before the World had in the most obvious and compelling way.
Tucker and Tividad don’t necessarily lose any credibility on Powerplant, but their impactfulness is somewhat harder to find. The title track features a seductive sway and pleasant piano accents that support the allegorical wording. They save their longest and meatiest songs for the end of the album, another peculiar maneuver but not without some reasoning. “It Gets More Blue” gets a boost from concrete lyrics that highlight the frustrated theme. Plus, we get clever wordplay such as: “You know it don’t say much/ The things that he did/ You’ll build him a tower/ He’ll burn you a bridge”. As Girlpool becomes less defined in their sound and style, they open doors into new creative avenues, still trying to find themselves.
Powerplant is available now.