Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad took the snarling, unbridled passions of punk rock and channeled it through the bare-minimalist form of guitar, bass, and voice—no percussion—on their 2014 self-titled debut EP. Removing the pulsating bloodline of hardcore-punk drumming would seem antithetical to its emotive aims, but anyone who’s heard “Slutmouth” and the piercing screams on “Jane” knows the power wielded by Girlpool comes precisely from the centrality of their voices. The world of their music has always been built out of the accumulation of tiny details sung softly: time spent at a bus stop in Chinatown, getting covered in juice while picking cherries, wearing an old dress that matched your mother’s.
But in “123,” the first song on their sophomore LP Powerplant, Tucker and Tividad take a new step: halfway through the song, a bashing set of drums suddenly rolls into the scene, complementing the rising action of their dueling vocals. Given the strength of their identity, you might think that drums might somehow make it difficult to fully immerse in Tucker and Tividad’s language. Well, you would be wrong.
For the majority of Powerplant, the drumming is used only sparingly, in most cases simply as a primer for the bright base of their songs. One such case comes with “Fast Dust,” a song that Tucker originally released via her solo project. On Powerplant, the murky, beautiful melody takes full shape before successive kick drums perfectly punctuate the end of a meter. Even on songs where drums become more prominent and the tensions rise more traditionally, like on “Soup,” “She Goes By,” and the cataclysmic finisher “Static Somewhere,” the songs seem more fully fleshed out as Girlpool’s climactic moments have room to expand.
Just look at the album’s second single, “It Gets More Blue.” While on a past release this song might have been more straightforward, without clear distinction between verse and chorus, here the transition from numbly sung descriptions (“The arsonist tells you that it gets more blue / The things you believe and the quiet bedroom snooze”) to the painfully swelling build of the chorus accents the heartbreaking and futile bargain the narrator makes with a leaving partner. Voices rise as she festers in lonely ruminations about her ex while reading books they recommbended, drinking drinks they drank together, as if these solitary actions could win back their attention. But a shift comes upon the narrator finally noticing the world outside: “And I’m still here / I’m always digging in trash / I can hear the train / As it moves past.” It’s perhaps the most actualized line that Tucker and Tividad have yet written.
It took another sense—the powerful thundering sound of a train (or a drum)—to remind her there’s a perpetually moving world out there, one that moves without acknowledging her, her ex, or any one singular relationship really. Thankfully, Girlpool was able to climb aboard and move onto something new.