Bare Essentials Make Girlpool's 'Before The World Was Big' A Huge Success
It takes a rare and bold talent to make great music with only the barest instrumentation: this is a fact proven by a vast sea of would-be Ed Sheerans that will never make it out of their local pub. It is a testament to Girlpool’s talent and originality, therefore, that their bare-bones guitar, bass and harmony approach has been such a hit across the globe merely on the back of an EP.
Cleo Tucker and Harmony Dividad sing and strum with a Sunday-Punk vigour, and filled their debut EP with fist-pump anthems like ‘Blah Blah Blah’ and easy cool, as on ‘Jane.’ Mingling their beating riot grrl blood and gift for simple songwriting makes the two irresistibly good, but it is their gutsy and frank vocalisation of the real young adult – not any of the mythologised teenage character types of pop culture – that brings them devotees on platters. On 'Before the World Was Big' Girlpool stroll out, emblems of modern youth, to reminisce and spit discontent while the pressures of adulthood loom.
“I thought I found myself today - no-one’s noticed, things are okay,” their rough but gorgeous harmony calls out as the record kicks off with ‘Ideal World.’ Meditating in vague discomfort on our Hallmark society, its lyrics are straight out of the punk handbook: frank, piercing, and great to shout at like-minded friends. This immediately establishes them in their familiar style, but their instrumentals have evolved in subtle flourishes: dissonant twangs punctuate the song, guitar outbursts that unsettle the reassuring plucking of the bass and imbue the track with discontent and formidable coolness.
The rest of the record follows suit, delivering song after bite-sized song (the most drawn-out we get is ‘Cherry Picking’s modest 3:37) of sharp bittersweetness. The album sounds like city walks with headphones on, its pace never jumping above a resting heartbeat, its instrumentals simple yet piercing and its vocals filled with a chestload of yearning.
Fuzzed-out highlight ‘Crowded Stranger’ is best consumed under sodium streetlamps with a stale roll-up, the kind of time made for harmonies soaked in rough-edged guitars and mumbling “everybody always makes me feel the same” under your breath. This is the time that most of the album is best for too, although staring out of a bus window pensively would also do nicely; yet this is definitely not a morose or self-serious record.
Puns and invisible half-smiles abound, as on the title track when they complain about walking around their neighbourhood “one hundred one million billion trillion times” and inform in deadpan that “green, black and blue trashcans meet [them] after school.” These playful riffs on childhood experience are amusing and incisive, as dramatic over-statements and the implication of absent parents allow character and story to unfold, all simply through dashes of humour. Make no mistake – there is serious talent here.
The beeline to youthful angst on this record may sound offputting to those for whom feelings are “immature,” but it is hard to imagine anyone scoffing at the lyricism and understanding in lines like “I’m still looking for sureness in the way I say my name,” or when they ask “if I loved myself, would I take it the wrong way?”
On 'Before the World Was Big', Girlpool drag up core insecurities that everyone has felt to some degree; trite this band are not, and the fact that young adults will be the ones shouting these lyrics back at them does not make them so. What they are is a band that shows talent, wit and boldness in bucket-loads who have made an album that, on paper, could have been derivative and dull, but in reality is vibrant, earnest lo-fi punk from the heart of youth. I can’t wait for more.
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Words by Sam Birkett