This article appears in our 2017 Summer issue, Invisibility. Subscribe today!
Girlpool’s formula is simple: guitar, bass, and the tightly woven voices of Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad. On Powerplant, the indie-pop duo’s second album, the hallmarks remain the same—blistering honesty at a raucous pitch—but with an expanded palette, the band sheds some brashness and commits to tenderness to stunning effect.
The centerpiece of Girlpool’s songs has always been the way Tucker and Tividad wrap their voices around one another’s like garden vines. They sing, sometimes in unison and sometimes in harmony, but more often, on the band’s debut album, Before the World Was Big, they shout. That forceful timbre gave Girlpool a brazenness that matched the intensity of the band’s lyrics. But on Powerplant, the pair are more often found singing: in sweet, high voices, sometimes even whisper-soft and angelic (“fast dust”). When they do give a good holler, like on “soup,” when the two howl, “You’ve got so much potential/ Can you feel it?”—it feels like an exclamation point instead of a stream of caps lock.
This is not to say Powerplant feels toothless compared to Before the World Was Big. On that album, songs like “Dear Nora” and “Chinatown” showed the gentler side of Tucker and Tividad’s voices, but were otherwise sparse. Powerplant picks up where those songs left off, and builds more elaborate sonic worlds around this gentleness. The band’s songwriting skills truly come into focus on this record; the song structures are more complex, the vocal melodies are more interesting, and the instrumentation is more sonically diverse, including the addition of drums (yes, drums) and a range of guitar tones. “she goes by” and “your heart” feature guitars that could have been lifted from ’90s alt-rock bands; “sleepless” even has shoegaze moments. It’s a brave change that the band commits to fully, and it pays off.
Tucker and Tividad started Girlpool as teens, when their simple structures and brash voices had a charmingly impetuous effect. To be a teen girl holding a guitar or bass, with something to say about love, sex, and heartbreak, and no fear of shouting it, were qualities that made Girlpool powerful. Powerplant shows that Tucker and Tividad have arrived, but they aren’t finished growing. The album’s full-band sound and delicate melodies only serve to shed greater light on the radical tenderness that has always been at the heart of this duo’s music.