What possibly would a balding, middle class, suburban, 33-year old father get out of an album made by a pair of girls just shy of 20?
Turns out, quite a bit. It’s been 15 years since I was their age and, frankly, I’ve buffed and waxed many of the scrapes and scratches from that time. Before The World Was Big roughed me up a bit; I almost resent Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad for it, but they’ve armed me for the same types of moments my son will experience 15 years from now. The pressure to conform to an “Ideal World” is real – and great. I’ve done it – on the profession front, writing these reviews is my small respite from it and the lone vestige of what I wanted to be and do 15 years ago – and what I have now, I wouldn’t relinquish for anything. But I also apologise to myself regularly for what I didn’t allow myself to follow those years ago.
My parents divorced in 2013 after 32 years of marriage; it was utterly unexpected and abrupt. This, on the heels of my brother struggling with substance abuse and finding himself on the wrong side of the law. I found myself snapping pictures of the exterior, the garage, the yard, all the rooms inside the house – the only house – I grew up in when I visited my dad last month because it had become abundantly clear that may very well be the last time I go to that house. I saw a picture on the refrigerator there of my brother and me from the early 90s sitting with ridiculous looking clothes on a piano bench while visiting a relative. If the intitial stock reasons to yearn for a bygone time have come and gone for me by now, these past couple of years have served as a stark reminder of how much you can miss the time “before the world was big”.
Trying to make sense of my family unravelling, which is no easier feat grown than not, sent me down a road paved with 20/20-hindsight anecdotes of how someone acted here, and what they said there, this chip, and that crack. It proved an interminable slog, mostly because our family was so damn poor at ever discussing how we felt and showing or expressing love, everything simply buffed to a high shiny gloss slick enough to keep blindly skating along on. Confronting these truths in retrospect is emotionally messy; there could be no truer metaphor for it than Tucker and Tividad’s “Cherry Picking” – as fine as it might feel in the moment to wear rose-coloured specs, ultimately, you do “have a hard time staying clean” when you uncover the grime beneath the surface.
I realise this review sounds awfully self-absorbed. It is. That’s how successful Girlpool is with this album. I also realise I’ve offered little critical discussion of the words or music. This album transcends that type of discussion. The emotional gravity carried by its brevity and simplicity, a quantum leap from last year's self-titled EP, is nothing less than astounding. Picking phrases from these songs, offering obvious descriptions of their tempos and dynamics, or fruitlessly noting which ones are acoustic or electric is a frivolous waste of commentary in lieu of simply telling you this album is essential and assuring you that it will elicit the same selfish dump of emotional reflection that I’ve plopped down here.
Before The World Was Big’s final track is perceptively called, “I Like That You Can See It”. I’ve heretofore been missing that quality, ruefully blindsided after the fact. This album prompts you to lay it all out so you can see it – and I like that.