Album Review: Girlpool – Forgiveness

[ANTI-; 2022]

You wouldn’t be incorrect if you thought Girlpool sounded like an entirely different band compared to when we first heard them on their 2015 debut Before the World Was Big. Now that their world has indeed become bigger, so has the music they make and the emotions sheathed within. Much of this growth stems from life experience and subsequent transformation. Between Avery Tucker’s gradual transition into his true self over the past few years and Harmony Tividad’s growing confidence in reflecting on lingering trauma, the difference in Girlpool from past to present has been made clear, bold, and absolutely glorious — an unmistakable evolution not only heard, but felt on the duo’s new album, Forgiveness.

Once upon a time, Girlpool would write their heart on disheveled pieces of paper, translating them to modest, heartfelt bedroom pop bops that were equal-parts crushing as they were charming. With passing time, however, these devout notes have been crumpled up and thrown into a trash heap resembling a shrine erected to remind of times more innocent and innocuous. A bit of reverbed guitar and harmonized vocals was once all they needed for these notes to take life as songs and find resonant souls to vibrate through with meaning. But now that the indie landscape is saturated with kindred twee souls, Girlpool are deciding to go against the grain and have chosen to share their story through expanded musical horizons.

Industrial rock? Check. Hyper-produced synth-pop? You guessed it. On Forgiveness, no single style is off the table for these once-modest indie rockers, just as long as the honest beating heart that pumps life through the outfit’s shared body is sustained. Between the fuzzy, falling apart blips and thumps of “Nothing Gives Me Pleasure” or the maximalist goth stance of “Afterlife”, Girlpool fully lean into more expansive sonic spaces that their last record merely toed into. What Chaos Is Imaginary certainly presented exciting possibility of direction, but it also lacked the complete, aural boldness they are now displaying with their latest. 

Some may argue that by expanding and amplifying, Girlpool are cloaking their own heart-on-sleeve earnestness, but this is far from the truth. Especially for those more fond of the band’s shy musical inception, the swarms of digitized sounds and haze found on Forgiveness are quite the spectacle, but it’s one that allows the duo’s sneakily sharp musings of heartbreak to strike from the cracks and crevices of despair.

“Butterfly Bulletholes”, for example, illustrates this underhanded emotional intensity. On the track, we hear Tividad, through the grandeur of a soaring chorus and baroque pop opulence, battle with the crippling confusion and devastating irony of a toxic relationship, tentatively reflecting, “But I’m holding on for my dear life / confusing bullets for butterflies”. There’s timidness in her voice, masked by instrumental grandness, but the cutting nature of Girlpool’s words remain — quietly loud as ever.

There will be those who find it too difficult to get behind Girlpool bending themselves into a more synthetic and sterile sound. Still, Girlpool manage to deliver enough twee to treat those most faithful. Fans of the duo’s more modest beginnings will still find a moment or two harkening to their soft, stripped-back former selves, like on the song “See Me Now”, where Tucker croons over simple chords sounding like a young Elliot Smith. The penultimate “Violet” moves and stirs about with a kindred timbre and is even punctuated with a single line that captures the purpose of the record’s comparably gentler turns; “When you held me like a doll / that’s when I felt so fucking strong”. In moments like these that call back to simpler times, power can be found in the record’s occasional lulled stillness.

From the beginning, the desire to evolve was always treading with inevitability within the deep end of Girlpool. Even though this desire swam with unknowing eyes, unprompted by the great future ahead and the tumult lurking beneath, time and maturation have now rendered Girlpool’s worldview undeniably more vast — spread agape to allow space for the duo to reflect and grow through the many ecstasies and unavoidable pain they’ve both endured throughout their formative young adult years. Sure, there’s also a sense of romanticizing the past and innocence about Forgiveness that is undeniably charming and precisely Girlpool through and through. But this record is a diaristic account of Tucker and Tividad actively exorcising their respective histories, while still pushing toward a better future.

Girlpool have finally escaped the contours of twee indie rock with their fourth album. It’s not your typical evolution; this record has always existed for Girlpool — they just had to begin to find themselves first. Forgiveness is a riveting glimpse into that ongoing process.