Lo-fi as a genre marker has swapped connotations over the years. At first, it denoted a low quality of sound (low fidelity), which would indicate a DIY ethic and, therein, a level of authenticity. If it sounded shitty, chances are you were doing things outside corporate influence; there was an implied autonomy, independence and legitimacy to it. But over time, lo-fi lost its credibility, coopted to cash in on the cultural capital of doing things independently. Its utility has come and gone, but there are still artists that invoke the original meaning, and to whom lo-fi is still wholly applicable.
Girlpool, the well-buzzed Los Angeles duo of Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker, are the good kind of lo-fi. Their sophomore record, Powerplant, uses sparse and understated aesthetics genuinely and honestly — in fact, the album and its title address, in part, the corporatized, industrial nature of all things, even music.
It's coming out on prestigious Epitaph imprint, ANTI-, a label the duo picked specifically because its ethos aligned with their own. Since their 2015 debut Before The World Was Big, Tividad and Tucker have been rapidly turning heads, and Powerplant exemplifies why: simple, undressed honesty and expression.
Opener and lead single "123" is soothing and uneasy. Starting with Tividad and Tucker's pristine, plucky guitar and bass spinning webs around one another, their voices join in whispered unison, tiptoeing through the crystalline weave of their string work. The song climaxes with a drumroll, a crash of percussion and Tividad and Tucker breaking off into confident harmonies. The ease and fluidity with which they navigate and manipulate dynamics with limited instrumentation is remarkable. "Corner Store," a bright, calm stroll, falls apart into distorted, explosive chaos for mere seconds, until as if jerked awake, the litany stops on a dime, falls quiet, and then resumes its previous cool gait. It's unexpected and effective; it doesn't subscribe to a pattern or rule, instead appearing as pure and unsaddled expression. This is integral to Powerplant's success — it presents familiar sounds in unfamiliar ways.
The imagination and lack of convention in melody and composition across the record are immersive, though Tucker and Tividad aren't necessarily reinventing the wheel here; in fact, perhaps part of what makes this record so commanding is that it sounds effortless and nonchalant. Surrounded by loud voices and insistent personalities, Girlpool are sharing unassumingly and unpretentiously. These qualities feel like cherished currencies, a reprieve of sorts from a crowded din. Their voices are hushed, communicating in breathy, Elliott Smith-style minimalism (the two readily cite Smith as a major influence). Tucker and Tividad are well-aware that there isn't an exclusive correlation between increased volume and impact, and their restraint pays off here as they deliver words thoughtfully, carefully.
What ties this record together is how relentlessly earnest it is. As far as vocals, guitar, bass and drums go, it feels genreless; lo-fi indie rock could suffice, but the washed-out associations of the latter only serve to detract from the touching quality of Powerplant. These are beautiful, imaginative, curious thoughts set to instruments. What's clear is that the music is merely a means to an end: expression. It's singular, creative work with pure intent; that makes Girlpool an important band, and it makes Powerplant an authentic, beautiful, effective record. (Anti)