Review: Girlpool Find Indie-Pop Neverland on ‘Before the World Was Big’
Release Date: June 2, 2015
Label: Wichita Recordings
Much like a certain overwrought island drama, the dramatic tension of Girlpool’s debut LP Before the World Was Big comes about because its main characters have to go back. Unlike Lost, the Philadelphia-based indie pop duo is concerned not with a return to a secluded world of violence and mystery but the sunny, welcoming oasis of adolescence. Full of misty-eyed idealism, Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker construct Blake-ian (but not Bono-vian) songs of innocence — creaky cries for a return to the greener grass of the recent past.
The pair have said as much in interviews, claiming that Before the World Was Big deals heavily with “growing up,” but one of the record’s triumphs is that so little exposition is necessary. Tividad and Tucker have a knack for writing unapologetically simple songs that wear their mature themes right out on their sleeves. The title track spells out the sort of unrepentant nostalgia that the record engages in, detailing a neighborhood stroll that leaves the pair pining for another era, when they were kids “wearing matching dresses.” It’s plainly stated, but well-spoken — bare, straightforward lyricism that can provoke a heartwarming swell of emotion through just an image or two.
Early Girlpool material tackled a different set of themes, using their wheedly vocalizations, sparse guitar, and bass attack as the subversive soundtrack to explorations of gender issues and sexuality. But Tividad and Tucker are more invested in looking backwards this time around, they come off more like softies, and more like the legendarily lilting K Records duo the Softies. They engage in a sort of formlessness and fluidity that serves the hazy emotion of these songs well. Album opener “Ideal World” drifts and dives with dead-eyed acceptance, acoustic guitars squeaking and strumming into a fuzzy coda that befits a lyrical exploration of the process of finding oneself. Tucker and Tividad have discovered their indie-pop Neverland, and a fanciful, free-flowing sound to suit it.
The return to naivety culminates on the LP’s penultimate track, “Emily” when, over yet another freewheeling guitar line, Tucker and Tividad implore the title character: “Remember me.” It’s a big, soaring moment, and a literal invocation of the enterprise that they’ve been undertaking the whole time — suggesting that there’s power, joy, and intimacy in the act of recollection — that the past is worth revisiting, even if it’s less clear and less urgent than the present.