Moving beyond girlhood
From the April, 2019 issue
For four years, the members of the group "girlpool" (they style it without the capital letter) were completely synchronized. The L.A.-based duo's short, polyphonic songs featured only the voices of Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad, Tucker's electric guitar, and Tividad's electric bass. Sometimes in unison and sometimes in a flawlessly timed matching harmony, their melodies were yelled out against catchy, similarly unified instrumental accompaniment. Then, in 2018, Tucker came out as a trans man, and alongside his transition came girlpool's own metamorphosis.
Girlpool's eponymous 2014 album on Bandcamp (the go-to streaming medium for young indie lo-fiers) featured riot grrl-style rebellious outrage at the world's intolerance for those who break the mold and a similarly rebellious breakdown of musical structure to its most basic form, evoking anti-folk heroes like Conor Oberst and the Moldy Peaches (if either would sing-yell about slut shaming). The subject matter and abrasive vocals alienated some audiences but resonated intensely with others. Listening to initial songs like "blah blah blah," a fast-paced rejection of an uninvested lover, the most appropriate response is to jump up and down in bed like a teenager furious over the unfairness of life and elated with the freedom of self- expression-appropriate since the duo were still in high school when it was released.
Their latest album, What Chaos Is Imaginary, is a dive into the unexplored. Instead of shared vocals, Tucker and Tividad take turns fronting melodic and subdued mournful reflections. That may have been necessitated by the lower pitch of Tucker's new male voice, but a full band and slower tempo complete the transition from righteous anger to pained melancholy. Trading discordant shouts for thoughtful, meticulous vocals adds vulnerability and establishes both musicians as undeniable talents.
After beginning hormone treatments, Tucker worked with a vocal coach to accomplish his deep murmur; meanwhile, Tividad's voice grew into a sweet soprano. The two have reworked their old classics to accommodate Tucker's new voice in live shows, giving old lines like "Sometimes I wanna be a boy/never really wanted girl toys" a much stronger meaning. Tucker and Tividad have grown into adulthood and found their own respective truths.
What hasn't changed are girlpool's themes of self-consciousness, nostalgia for moments passed, and disillusionment with idealized lovers and friends. If you're feeling upset, out-of-place, or introspective, girlpool remains a go-to catharsis. As a Bandcamp comment on the new album notes, "New body, same soul. Bless you Girlpool."
Girlpool plays the Blind Pig on Friday, April 19.
[Originally published in April, 2019.]
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