It's been widely noted that Girlpool made a huge leap between their self-titled 2014 EP and their first full-length, Before the World Was Big, which appeared a year later. Their debut was a bare-bones affair consisting of songs that valiantly rested on a couple of chords and their distinctly teenage-sounding voices. But it also signaled a progression toward a more subtle use of their talents compared to the EP's antagonistic approach. Their music could so easily have ended up sounding bratty, but it's very much to their credit that their humanity shines through their sensitively wrought vignettes. Still, they've retained a wonderfully snotty, punk-informed approach, and that hasn't been lost on Powerplant. By Girlpool's standards, the opener is a big one. They've chosen to make use of a drum kit for this album, dispensing with the strict minimalism of their last record. The percussion that backs Cleo Tucker's guitar, Harmony Tividad's bass, and their joint vocal on "123" is well-served by the addition of crashing cymbals and underlying beats. The more pressing rhythm provided by the expanded instrumentation, while not missed on BTWWB, makes for a welcome change of pace here; the fullness of "kiss and burn" and "she goes by" being cases in point.
That's not to say they've abandoned their lo-fi sensibility entirely. The record was originally supposed to be recorded with Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, but scheduling issues led to them making it on their own. And while the idea of Tweedy's considerable talents being heard in the mix may sound tantalizing, the sole ownership and intimacy of their partnership feels crucial to the innate charm and uniqueness of the music they make. Neither potential collaborations nor a drum kit have impeded the sense of an acutely interlocked relationship that makes the more downbeat numbers so emotionally rich. "soup's" protagonist is hauntingly drawn out through their tightly aligned harmonies: "Come over to my place I'll help find your fix/you've got lots of potential/can you feel it." Their observations are understatedly, and often crushingly, insightful: "Your dad saw you crying when you looked at the world/sit and stare at your hands cuz there's so much to lose." And often wryly cutting, as on "It Gets More Blue" -- "You know it don't say much the things that he did/You'll build him a tower he'll burn you a bridge." Which is not to say the album's tone is dominated by dark ruminations -- Powerplant is brimming with playful musicality and a real sense of fun. "corner store," for instance, is a jaunty everyday tale blown up by crunchy abrasive riffs only to swiftly return to Tucker and Tividad's sweet harmonies. "static somewhere" builds suspense though grimy, chugging rhythms answered with bright guitar breaks. There's a very singular character to Girlpool's music, and it's a pleasure to be able to dip into the remarkable world they have created.