After a steady release of teaser songs, Girlpool’s debut Before The World Was Big has landed. They had killer EP back in late 2014, with songs like ‘American Beauty’ and ‘Blah Blah Blah’ establishing them as a minimalistic-instrumentally but complex-lyrically group with knowingly naive and honest words. Truth is, Before The World Was Big is more of a collection of songs they’ve been playing live for a long time, as seen by five of the songs here being found on their ‘Things are OK’ documentary back in the early part of the year. Some may be surprised by the lack of a quick, loud folk-punk song like ‘Blah Blah Blah’ from the EP, but where Girlpool excel is their hushed slow-burners anyway and Before The World Was Big is full of them. From ‘Cherry Picking’ to ‘Emily’, Girlpool whisper/shout often biting lyrics like ‘Yes I am picking cherries / I have a hard time staying clean’ and ‘Truth is that I am working for myself and only me’ on ‘Cherry Picking’, a song that slowly turns into a furious criticism of ‘lovers turn to strangers’.
‘Magnifying Glass’ is Before The World Was Big‘s ‘Love Spell’, an almost spoken word tale of childish naiveity. The theme of children and growing up is a common theme, as is the fear of growing into an adult that, you know, pays bills and has a ‘real’ job. The dual singing of Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad has been a common turn-off for the band, as Harmony’s edges on ‘whiney’ sometimes. Personally, I don’t think it hurts at all to have a singer that isn’t ‘perfect’, in fact most of my favourite bands have singers that can’t ‘sing’ in a traditional sense. The off-key singing aids the whole cobbled-together, DIY feel of the band. The childish naiveity returns on many tracks, most notably ‘Before The World Was Big’, which I reviewed a while back. The band sings ‘I just miss how it felt standing next you / wearing matching dresses’ behind the simplistic guitar and basslines.
Trouble is, sometimes the songs never reach their full potential. ‘Crowded Stranger’, a song that could easily extend itself, but Girlpool withdraw and the song is cut short. Whether it’s because Girlpool songs demand a punky shortness or because the song is unsure where it can go next, the song suffers for it. Another problem I find is that some of the songs don’t match up with the live recordings nearly as much. On their ‘Things Are OK’ doc, rendentions of ‘Cherry Picking’ and ‘Chinatown’ were in-your-face and angry, whereas here the singing is hushed and the shoutier parts (‘Do you feel restless when you realise you’re a lie?’) are muffled. This may be a production weakness, but the singing doesn’t have nearly as much emotion as it does live.
The best songs you’ll find here are ‘Emily’, ‘Dear Nora’ and ‘Crowded Stranger’. ‘Emily’ and ‘Crowded Stranger’ as tales of urban boredom, broken relationships and friendships. ‘Dear Nora’ as a whispered, heartfelt message to a friend that’s also a description of Girlpool’s travels as a band, with the alternating singing of ‘Cleo was tired / Harmony was hyper’. Friendship plays a big part in Girlpool and Before The World Was Big. You get the sense that the friendship, as depicted by the doc, comes before the band. It’s very real, very personal and heartwarming to not see a band ripping out each others throats like many do.
Before The World Was Big has its faults: the production is ocasionally sloppy and hushed, the singing is awkward and some of the songs don’t live up to other performances. However, I think Girlpool take pride in the DIY mistakes of the album and the band itself. They aren’t some manufactured indie band, it’s an organic and believable friendship narrated by an album about childhood naiveity and growing up. You can almost believe that there are children inside Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad just bursting to escape and play.