Why I love Girlpool’s “Before The World Was Big” so much

“I just miss how it felt standing next you, Wearing matching dresses before the world was big.”

With that, the special place this album holds in my heart is epitomized. Because when I hear that I’m transported to every moment of transcendent connection I’ve ever felt. It reminds me of every new friend I’ve ever made, every new love found and every new exciting moment. It takes me back to hanging out with a girl I like in a field, young; smoking cigarettes, listening to music; the flame of a potential future burning in my chest. The paralysingly simple riff of Ideal World conjures up the pleasant phantom of first being introduced to cool subcultures and different attitudes; wandering around school like a ponce with motif button badges all over my blazer. “Tranquilize me with your Ideal World…”

I remember having a debate with a friend when we saw them live over the meaning of Cherry Picking (my favourite song on the album by some margin), particularly as it pertains to the choral refrain: “Yes I am picking cherries, I have a hard time staying clean.” I thought addiction a likely inspiration, whereas she wondered if the ‘picking’ of said cherry was a virginity metaphor… who knows. The important thing is that it could be both, or neither.

There’s a lo-fi simplicity to this record that I haven’t really heard anywhere else since (even from the band’s own follow-up): a youthful, uniquely feminine, sing-songy quality – with just enough Grunge bite when needed (see: Crowded Stranger) – sort of like if Daniel Johnston were to emerge from his basement, plug in an amp and pop on a dress. Most of the album is just guitar, bass and the band’s melodious, intertwining vocals, but it works perfectly because it doesn’t need to be anything else. This album is meant to sound comprised of songs made in a bedroom by starry eyed teen-aged girls, because it essentially was, and it does so perfectly.

Saying this, the album is not flawless. Magnifying Glass – the strange, bombastic interlude between (for me) album highlights Cherry Picking and Crowded Stranger – is unnecessary at best, and irritatingly jarring at worst. On top of that, though I have nothing specific against it, lead single Chinatown has always sat somewhat flat to me, never quite showing the sense of dynamic spirit that the rest of the songs have. To me it plays more like a demo for the band’s ability, or a sort of template from which all of their interesting songs can jump off.

But the reason why I love this album so much, why I still listen to it three years later, is not the collection of songs, nor exactly the musical style, but a palpable feeling. For me it is inextricably linked to the time that I was first listening to it. Considering that I’m basically the same age as the band, whenever I hear it I remember that insecure, exhilarating feeling of ferrying a youthful sense of wonder and hope delicately into the adult world.

I remember the fear, I remember the fire, and I remember that ecstasy of blue-sky wonder, Before the World Was Big.

M.V. (music writing)

There’s a monolithic tick of bass, anarchically simple; throbbing. There’s a sudden contorted, crackling death rattle permeating the room, hanging in the air like smell. It’s the sound of choking, murderous fumes blown through a nose. It’s the picture of a smoking bull squaring up to the matador with a dead-eye.

Without warning, in an instant, that plodding bass tap is transmogrified. Atop the naked ear: a new beast astride. By the alchemy of overdrive, from a cocoon of spitting, spluttering, immutable distortion emerges a primal, guttural lashing of power-chord violence. In the indecipherable hiss, from the depths: from the smoky din of the mundane… There rises a scratchy-throated warrior, one who rasps indignant to whomever will listen.

And listen they will.

Praying to the sky. (character prose)

Plumes of smoke lift into the air with a delicate floating symmetry, seeming to kiss the sky before sailing away, traversing rooftops with gentle ease. The sky is black. The stars pierce through the veil of blackness, punctuating the night with a natural light-show, seeming far away but, at the same time, very close.

The boy’s eyes are candy-red, peering out from a thick fringe with odd strands quivering in the wind. His head is craned skywards, eyes fixed on a distant star. Cramped together on the short wooden plank framing the foot of the garden, his elbow rests on his knee while his hand wields the thick brown joint steadily dissipating into the air around him. From baggy lounge-bottoms, dirty old trainers jitter in that night chill over cracked-white concrete.

Smoke bellows out of his nose, rising up and choking his eyes. He squints and shakes – carefully and quietly – in that deadened night. Staring at the pattern of those concrete slabs for a minute, he is disturbed by the wheels of a car screeching away in the distance. An abrupt, rousing shriek that echoes through the cul-de-sac before tapering off and finally fading away.

Looking at the joint between his fingers, his eyes glaze over. He focuses on the long arms that are too skinny, the delicate wrists that are too thin; the fingernails grown slightly too long… girlish. His eyes itch and his throat aches. The night is running thin… as is the potential for a good night’s sleep. Pursing his lips, he blows out a broken jet of smoke and looks around the garden. Gingerly, all sound has ceased. The wind is utterly muted. Tranquil. For a moment, nothing exists but himself and the ground.

The birds of the coming sunrise sing a fortuitously ominous signal, and the silence breaks. Morning is coming. Soon everyone will be awake. Soon he will have to get up, and shower, and eat, and dress, and walk to school. He stubs out the joint, wipes his fingernails on the grass, and stands up to leave. As he pushes the porch door shut, his eye catches a glint of the final fragment of that evening’s pale moonlight. He stays for a moment, before flicking up the lock and heading inside.