Girlpool - Before the World Was Big (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


Before the World Was Big (2015)

Wichita Recordings

“Ideal World,” the first track on Girlpool’s first full-length album, Before the World Was Big, comes in with a driving bassline that sounds like Velvet Underground and Nico meets The Pixies, but with a little more modern studio warmth to it. As the song fades out on a chaotic guitar solo, it sounds like a very reigned in version of Sonic Youth. This is a pretty good metaphor for the rest of the album, where the band pulls from very discordant influences, but softens the edges to make the album more palatable.

Girlpool are often referred to as a folk punk duo, but this was a bit more true on their 2014 self-titled EP, in which they came off sounding like the feminist version of The Violent Femmes. However, for their first full-length release, Girlpool couldn’t sound any more unlike folk punk, as Before the World Was Big, instead, invokes the truest spirit of indie pop. It immediately brings to mind all the indie-pop artists I got into in college like Jenny Lewis, Tilly and the Wall, Coco Rosie, Mates of State, or the entire Elephant 6 collective. Girlpool has reinterpreted this basic sound through a very minimalist approach to music.

The instrumentation is sparse and delicate, it’s as if they’re being careful to ensure that every single note being played is absolutely necessary. The minimalism works, and strips the songs down to the most basic, beautiful elements of pop. Girlpool lacks a drummer, something I failed to even notice the first two times I listened to the album, because the drums really aren’t missed here. Harmony Tividad’s bass playing is able to compensate, creating a powerfully infectious, deep, persistent, yet simple bass beat that serves as the backbone of the album.

The lyrical themes, much like the musical style, have changed significantly from their self-titled EP to Before the World Was Big. Where the EP was noted for its brash feminism, Before the World Was Big, like its title suggests, is an album about nostalgia and the awkward pangs of growing up. Songs like the album’s title track, where Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad sing in unison, invoke memories of childhood rhymes and songs, bringing the spirit of childhood front and center.

If there’s one criticism I have of the album, it’s that “I Like That You Can See It” is an odd track to close out the album with. It’s the most off-putting song on the album, as Tucker and Tividad’s vocals cross the line from singing into shrill shrieking. The penultimate track, “Emily,” would have been a much better album closer.

Before the World Was Big, despite its sparseness, never feels cold and distant, but somehow always remains warm, inviting, and familiar. This album is such a successful experiment in minimalism, that you’ll listen to other bands wondering why they always try so hard to sound so busy when Girlpool can do so much with so little.