What actually happened before the world was big? Obviously the world must have been pretty small, perhaps nonexistent. For the L.A. Punk band Girlpool, the world was small in the way that emotions were. If someone has been left alone to their own devices, objectives become straightforward; noticing suburbia for what it is does not register as something to do. Bring someone into that equation and what you have is love, one where Nora Ephron books make sense and lullabies are paralyzing.
To say that Girlpool are a terrible duo because of their simplistic and child-in-a-candy-store way of instrumentation is only seeing the band under a single lens which is inappropriate. They are a punk group that crafts themselves to have some of the sharpness that early Alanis Morissette brought to the table. Early Tegan and Sara had similar vocal harmonies and elements that Morissette and Girlpool have, making Before the World Was Big a love letter to introverted living, but also to the raw parts of rock in the past. The duo play simply with a guitar, bass, and their vocals, not with fancy synth flairs or soft drumming. That said, this album’s strong points are not in its instrumentation, but in the quality of its lyrics.
Girlpool has a self-awareness that manages to strike a deal between the cruel parts of the world and the good. In “Ideal World,” vocalists Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad find that all that matters is one special person’s acknowledgement of your existence–the world can wait; it does not have to grow, yet. The title track has a charm in the way that the singers feel so in the mood. It is meant to be a song about remembering a loved one, but it is sung with such hype that it would make audiences donate to the band if they were buskers. “Chinatown” and its take on self-esteem, as well as “Pretty’s” take on being alone with a lover show that this band, besides feeling a bitterness to the world, is mature when it comes to being alone with someone else. Of course, that’s how lovers are supposed to feel. But the way that the duo convey themselves without using any cheesy lyrics, even going so far as including themselves in their song (“Dear Nora”), indicates that Girlpool feel the pain of an adolescent wanting to be different without actually putting so much effort into that. What we are given in Before the World Was Big is diary entry upon diary entry of something so seamless, even though that is not what it is.
When Girlpool initiate their punk songs, they do so in ways that would make a band like The Shaggs think “That’s the sound we want.” If love is bringing your lover to your parent’s house, having séances with burning incense (“Emily”), then bring that on slowly. Expanding this world should not feel contrived–lovers should not drag each other to places because that is what they do in books, movies, and songs. For Girlpool, it is an almost effortless task to create that non-picturesque yet satisfying track; all they have to do is be at a particular place and find the joy in it themselves. They bring their twangy guitar, fast tempos, and lo-fi acoustics. What we bring is the expectation that this is not going to be a big album. It is small, and we can still find comfort in that.
Dustin Ragucos is a writer of things fictional, poetic, and musical. His main loves include Death Grips and Indie music. Dustin’s blog is host to a weekly blurb about albums old and new.