Album Review: Girlpool, ‘Before the World Was Big’
On the outset, Girlpool’s debut long-player, Before the World Was Big, is noticeably less confrontational than their self-titled EP. The 2014 seven-song effort's lead track, “Blah Blah Blah,” reveled in its agitated, frenetic energy; “Slutmouth” delivered a searing, unapologetic takedown of gender roles and expectations.
Instead, Before the World has more in common with Girlpool’s one outlier track, “Plants and Worms,” on which Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad sing, “Don’t ever go away from home / You’ll never know what it’s like in the unknown / But exploration opens up my mind.” It serves as a fairly concise summation of the crossroads the duo found themselves at upon the making of their first full-length.
Tucker and Tividad -- 18 and 19 years old, respectively -- recently made the move from their hometown of L.A. to Philadelphia, where they recorded Before the World with the help of producer and Swearin’ frontman Kyle Gilbride. The album reflects the transient nature of both their age and the relocation.
Before the World maintains the EP’s rough, rudimentary style afforded by Girlpool's guitar-and-bass-only setup, the Moldy Peaches-esque charm, the quiet-loud dynamics and Tucker and Tividad’s harmonies, which can either blend seamlessly or veer off into choppy messes. However, in terms of message, Girlpool have created a cohesive concept. In 10 tracks -- which clock in at a mere 25 minutes -- Tucker and Tividad capture the uncertainty of their position just on the cusp of adulthood.
Girlpool both yearn for youth while making their peace with it. They are simultaneously apprehensive of what lies ahead and embracing all of the possibilities the future holds. While “Plants and Worms” may have been a sign of things to come, Girlpool offer an equally astute and even more succinct synopsis of Before the World on “Chinatown”: “I am nervous for tomorrow and today.”
Not unlike the Girlpool EP, Before the World is startling in its directness, with each song reading like a childhood diary, and fittingly so, as the album -- in many ways -- deals in memory. Girlpool cast a rosy-colored nostalgia over youth, contemplating who and what they will remember, but they also deliberate their own legacy in others' memories. On the sweetly somber “Nora,” they reflect on old friends and road trips, while even addressing themselves in third person; the title track grasps at the simplicity of youth in its chaotic vocal rounds; and “Emily” delivers the desperate plea, “I’m still here / Remember me.”
Before the World Was Big is calculated in its unsteadiness, as Girlpool grapple with their place in the world -- or as they posit in “Chinatown”: “I’m still looking for sureness in the way that I say my name.”