Emerging from the Los Angeles indie underground in 2014, Girlpool sounded like no other act, employing a deceptively simple formula to deliver their raw tales of teenage woe, joy, and confusion. Using just electric guitar and bass to accompany their voices, Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad delivered a brief self-titled EP that was heartfelt, funny, powerful, and twice as punk at half the volume. Seeking a change of pace, the two friends relocated to Philadelphia at the end of the year, where they teamed up with Kyle Gilbride (Swearin', Waxahatchee) to record their full-length debut, Before the World Was Big. Still just shy of their twenties, Tucker and Tividad approach the world with cautious abandon, looking backward with lines like "I just miss how it felt standing next to you, wearing matching dresses before the world was big" even as they willfully place themselves in a new city on an unfamiliar coast where unknown possibilities await. The growth between their EP and this album is evident in the sophistication of their playing and the subtlety of their tone, which is still as vulnerable as before but comes from a more introspective and mature place. Slower, wistful tracks like the acoustic "Dear Nora" and the gently ambient "Pretty" expand the scope of Girlpool's sound but still live within their unique framework, which is still totally unencumbered and very direct. Vocally, Tucker and Tividad are wonderfully unpredictable, effectively trading verses and lines, or more often singing together in both harmony and unison and supporting one another in the face of uncertainty, like on the standout track "Chinatown." Even more than on their first release, Girlpool feel like a unit, totally locked into each other musically and emotionally, and their stark presentation remains a boon to their risky and appealingly human songs.
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AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger