The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s proved long ago that raucous and moving indie punk doesn’t need a bass player. Now Girlpool, two girls named Cleo and Harmony who swap bass, guitar, and vocal duties, are proving that the drummer is optional as well. Imagine if Veruca Salt never decided to find a drummer and bassist and instead went it alone. Girlpool’s harmonies a similarly sweet + sour, but their feminism a bit more apparent.
When I first heard the bands dinscription on Rookie I was a but skeptical, but the momentum of Blah blah is undeniable. Cleo and name shout down a guy who left them crying in the rain for a girls with shorter skirts and then has the gall to bootycall all them. “When I try to kiss you you get scared why don’t you” Cleo belts before harmony chimes in: ” leave me go out the door. I can’t handle your shit anymore”. The song perfectly capture the rage found in liking someone AND them not liking you back.
They don’t have a drummer and they don’t need one.
When CMJ came around this year, I knew that seeing Girlpool was going to be my top priority. Infact, they’re on of the few bands from this list that I actually saw. Fittingly, it was a Burger Records show at the now defunct DIY venue Death By Audio. The walked up through the crowd, chatting with friends and other bands as they set up their instruments.
Watching them, I was struck by how much Harmany and Cleo are so clearly into each other.Their stark music is the sound of friends fooling around in the living room, and much like watching Amy Phoeler and Tina Fey giving cracking jokes together in an award show, their camaraderie is an intrinsic part of their appeal.
Later a bass string broke and they asked if they had time to fix it. “They’re such rockstars” a girl sighed next to me, which was odd since the vulnerability displayed in such an action is the antithesis of the swaggering confidence of Iggy Pop or Mick Jagger. Earlier Cleo had pretended to plug her amp cord into her nose to get Harmony to laugh. Girlpool isn’t a duo of “bad bitches” but pals who can be vulnerable and silly because they have each other to lean on. During their songs one girl frequently sings a harmony over the ends of the other girls verse, the musical equivalent of finishing a best friend’s sentence. What makes them different from the many other acts bringing their bedroom-production sensibility to the stage is that their songs and theme’s are so relatable. Their song “Alone at the Show” is so simple and yet speaks so clearly to the experience of going alone to a concert and wanting to be friends (and more) with all the cool people milling about.
Earlier I likened Girlpool’s music to the indie punk of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but I find that misleading. Like Karen O and company (especially in their later albums) , Girlpool takes the building blocks of punk and builds something else. Sure, in the excellent single “Jane” the verses are punctuated by a scream. Yes, their song “Blah Blah Blah” could easily be a straight ahead punk song if you added drums, which tour mates Slutever prove in this cover. Still, the simplicity of their music reminds me more of Jack White’s minimalism than the lack of knowledge of the Ramones. It’s was obvious to me while watching Harmony noodle around on the guitar during a brief gap in songs that they are capable musicians who are opting out for grandiosity in order to highlight their lyrics. Despite all their love of Post-Punk and Beat Happening, the ladies of Girlpool are making pop music. It’s raw and surprisingly loud pop music, especially in live shows where their voices stay on the same solid octave during their entire show, but pop music in terms of structure and clarity. There’s a accessibility to Girlpool’s strong, feminist-influenced songs that Kathleen Hanna and Tobi Vail never quite achieved in Bikini Kill. Songs like “Plants and Worms” can be digested easily by anyone who happens by, and as the people at Death By Audio rushed forward to offer words of praise, it’s clear that people are listening.
If you’re in New York you can go the Le Sigh Vol. II Zine Launch party and pick up the compilation tape featuring “Alone at the Show,” and if you’re in LA you can check them out at their last west coast shows “for a while” before their move to Philadelphia on their Facebook. If you don’t live in ether of those places, their self-titled EP is on Itunes and Spotify.
Now there is a short documentary about the band, during while the band was on this tour. Watch it below.