Atmospheric Folk Gets A Girl-Power Booster Shot
The newest release from folk punk powerhouse Girlpool is a satisfying work of ambient lyricism. Whereas much ambient music forgoes lyrics, the atmospheric Powerplant makes one listen harder, therein promoting focus and, arguably, enjoyment of the album as a whole. On several tracks, a swaying melodic contour in the instrumentals, coupled with either monotone, femme-punk-style vocals or consonant and separable harmonies that only sometimes wax dissonant, contributes to an evolved 1960s folk rock aesthetic.
The opening track on Powerplant, titled “123,” sounds at one point like the speaker is entreating the subject to consider a list of excuses on some matter. The intro to this track could provide backing to a Charlie Brown special if the piano didn’t have the instrumental monopoly in that niche, and it evolves into a sort of folk punk, Mamas & the Papas-inspired harmonic structure – sans, of course, the Papas. A favorite is the keenly feminine “Kiss and Burn,” a slightly more raucous number evoking a fusion of Brandi Carlile’s gritty folk rock and the abrasiveness of riot grrrl vocals. “Fast Dust” presents a different elaboration, dealing with a female subject and featuring a kick drum like an arrhythmic heartbeat.
The listener will pick up short phrases from the lyrics of these songs upon first listen that make one wish for a lyric booklet and liner notes. “I’m in a gallery no one’s ever seen,” croons frontwoman Cleo Tucker, conjuring images of a white room of someone’s subconscious and filling it with swirling colors as the well-rounded musical phrases create a pleasing and ambient somatic experience. Other favorites are the ’60s-inspired and dissonant “She Goes By,” and the harmonically comforting “High Rise.”
Girlpool (perhaps purposefully) blur genre lines and pull it off masterfully with Powerplant. In trying to articulate what this album is, listeners may pull from experiences of folk, punk and rock, while attempting not to use too many hyphens to classify what they hear. Maybe that’s the point of an album like this, and of music in this vein that emphasizes its femininity while claiming space within masculine genres: to defy classification but satisfy the listener with rich atmospheric guitars, basses, harmonies and percussion, and to encourage movement, both of the body and the mind.