Girlpool Plunge into the Personal on 'Forgiveness'

BY Noah CiubotaruPublished Apr 27, 2022

"You leave me crying in the fucking rain / I want you." These lines are flung at the listener upon entering Girlpool's self-titled EP that, in 2014, was recorded on a home cassette, uploaded to Bandcamp, and in turn, shot the Los Angeles duo to fame. The biting wittiness of that attack then flipping into an admission of enduring desire for that same damaging person effectively introduced people to the duo's scrappy, subversive spirit.

Brandishing the ways you get yourself in trouble has long been a celebrated punk trope, but more than anything, Avery Tucker and Harmony Tividad have been interested in growth, both as individuals and a creative unit. Girlpool's new album, Forgiveness, toys with nostalgia only to the extent that it might allow for past selves to be embraced with a degree of softness, balancing out the pricklier task of unpacking the mistakes that memory prefers to obscure.  
In the tradition of Girlpool, Forgiveness begins by compellingly stretching in different directions. "Nothing Gives Me Pleasure" churns around a skeleton of industrial sputters, its tactility countered when Tividad wispily sings, "Do you even want me if I even have to ask? / Break it to me gently with your fingers up my ass." Her levelled vocals and semi-robotic pauses between words evoke a sort of blitzed-out emptiness, as if she had depleted her vitality searching for gratification and then surrendered to some insipid version of it. She fixates on a partner who's withholding and elusive, but that impenetrability just fuels the fascination; as the chorus repeats, it's all the things this person won't say that allegedly offer a fount of pleasure.
Through its portrayal of rudderless hedonism, "Nothing Gives Me Pleasure" registers as both distinctly rooted in LA and reflective of a generational predicament. Beyond the song's lyrics, the music itself manages to enfold these swaths of experience. Synths sprawl toward the most private corners of the mind, suspending the listener in something glorious and stupefying. Complete reverie, however, would not hold true to contemporary life — or perhaps life at any moment in history. "Pleasure" needed to be grounded by its glitching percussion, reminded of the conditions that underpin an atmosphere of seemingly endless possibility.
After touring the first Girlpool record, Tividad and Tucker temporarily relocated to the East Coast, shuffling between New York and Philadelphia to escape the stuffiness of Los Angeles. Now, they're settled back in their hometown, and Forgiveness proves how they've been able to reconfigure their relationship with it on their own terms. The city's Edenic aspects no longer ensnare them; instead, they play with its archetypes to populate their art with inflated personas and indulgent urges.
Take the duelling drives that Tucker channels on two of the album's singles, "Lie Love Lullaby" and "Dragging My Life Into a Dream." On the former, he's rendered sinister by a deceptive relationship, resembling the darker counterpart to Tividad's obsessive personality on "Pleasure." Even though "Dragging" examines the same situation of ruptured innocence as "Lullaby" does, it's distinctly filtered through a breezy boy-band sound, and the music video leans further into that aesthetic by dressing Tucker in the corny getup of a cream suit, white tank, and gold chains. Here, the masking of pain in a cloying brand of optimism is also slyly acknowledged by the lyrics: Tucker must effortfully drag his life into this sunny spot, an image quite at odds with the musical vibe.

Tividad embodies another wounded character on "Junkie," one who's afflicted by her Christian preoccupation with goodness. Over a clicking, off-kilter rhythm, her angelic falsetto wonders how she could be forgiven for the most sinful parts of herself. The song is heightened into haunting psychodrama through sudden hints of confession ("Daddy's in the graveyard / Digging through my doll parts"), but despite the lighting of devotional candles and talk of carrying crosses, cravings persist for things decreed shameful ("Let your body destroy and change me"). The illicit acts continue on "Country Star," which finds Tucker testing out a stalkerish tone. He breathily creeps across synths that sound lifted from a campy horror flick, and genuflects at the feet of the song title's subject. "I wish he had taken all of me," he admits, even after mentioning that this so-called star ran him over, flattening him out in the most literal of ways.
For all the mercurial experiments in power, Forgiveness also contains moments that scale back the theatrics to spotlight Tucker and Tividad as the sincere, gimlet-eyed songwriters they've proven to be since Girlpool's inception. If the album ultimately endeavours to straddle extremes, "Faultline" presents its thesis statement by taking a wistful stroll along trembling planes. Tividad reframes fault lines in terms of the taxing emotional cycles we must continually pass through and questions whether she'll live (or die) lodged between "solitude and hope" or "entropy and woe."

Of course, LA is a precarious landscape, prone to environmental disaster in addition to it constantly teetering on the edges of real and make-believe; but increasingly, so is the rest of the world. Surprisingly, there's still room for romance: for sentimentalizing our lives and relationships, for aggrandizing our dreams and fears. Forgiveness plunges into those depths while always keeping sight of the cost. At the end of "Faultline," after Tividad is almost consumed by her own unmanageable appetite, everything evaporates into something undivided, and she's left with a single, paradoxical truth: "Holding onto me for our dear life / All these bodies always touching mine."
(ANTI- Records)

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