When Girlpool made their introductory statement, with 2015’s Before the World Was Big, they immediately found a niche with gentle bedroom DIY aesthetics conjuring high school sleep-overs. Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad capably elicit feelings of empathy and current understanding masquerading as adolescent nostalgia. The duo doubles down on their sophomore effort, Powerplant, sounding more adult and composed without compromising their identity.
Album opener, “123”, may be the most compelling link between Girlpool’s two albums. Beginning with the solitary plucking of a guitar coupled with Tucker and Tividad’s harmonizing vocals, the song ramps up with, potentially, the most surprising addition to Powerplant, drums. Before the World Was Big was notable not only for its quality but for Girlpool’s reliance exclusively on their own voices, a guitar and a bass. Deciding to incorporate further instrumentation, albeit one of the most common forms, is evidence of the band’s desire to grow and move forward in their space. It works well on “123,” giving the song a new heartbeat and direction that punctuates lyrics like “1,2,3 will you list it off to me/how you’re sorry you feel weird in a jubilation dream.”
Girlpool’s stripped-down approach enables the band to focus more narrowly on what’s working for them. On “Sleepless,” their baseline creates a stable track with enough room to contain their brief flourishes of guitar. “Corner Store” follows a similar direction but its most impactful element is the shear guttural ripping effect of a hard-edged riff halfway through halting suddenly allowing for the gentle vocals to regain a foothold. The song may be the best evidence of Tucker and Tividad’s tendency to interwork childlike lyrical imagery similar to predecessors like Kimya Dawson: “I want to be a puzzle superglued to you/I’m falling off the table/I get stuck on the things I see/I’ve had crumbs in a bag in my pocket all week.”
Powerplant is an easily chewable album, with only two tracks topping the three-minute mark. The briefest song falls short of 90 seconds and feels more like an instrument check. Even with these short bursts of structure, Girlpool finds success by leaving thoughts and feelings before they’ve had time to turn stale. The most memorable song, “Soup,” finds the duo sticking to a dirtier register that proves their unafraid to get into the muck and the grime, “Come over to my place/I’ll help find your fix/You’ve got lots of potential/Can you feel it.”
Girlpool’s original novelty allowed for rampant skepticism that the band would grow beyond that initial introduction. With Powerplant, they’ve not only proved their growth potential, but have shared an album that shows an abundance of realized talent. Their songwriting carries a poetic voice that picks out meaning from some of the most mundane moments of life and builds fully fleshed out feelings. Each song contains a sour-sweet edge and, on initial listens, can be missed. Powerplant demands repeat listens and with a sub 30-minute runtime there’s little excuse not to replay it immediately.