Girlpool: Forgiveness Album Review | Pitchfork
Forgiveness exists at an excruciating inflection point, where salvation and torture could easily be mistaken for romance. Across 12 mercurial pop songs, bandmates Avery Tucker and Harmony Tividad write, as they always have, about the ongoing and ever-brutal process of losing innocence. This time around, Girlpool’s songs—some of the most sonically adventurous they’ve ever made—are colored by reckless partying, sketchy sex, and the depressing realization that you can be complicit in your own suffering and still not have the tools to relieve yourself of it. Brilliant and unrelentingly bleak, it’s Tucker and Tividad’s finest exploration of the pressures and politics of young adulthood—a record that uses the sound and feeling of pop music to heighten the emotions contained within.
Forgiveness runs the gamut from glacial hyperpop to horned-up industrial electronics and serene country balladry, but the duo’s new stylistic breadth isn’t the focus. From the very first lines—“Do you even want me if I even have to ask?/Break it to me gently with your fingers up my ass”—it’s clear that Tucker and Tividad have moved beyond the impressionistic, if occasionally vague, songwriting of 2019’s What Chaos Is Imaginary. If the lyrics on that album often felt like transmissions from troubling, free-associative dreams, this record is more like the cold, sterile panic of waking from a nightmare. These songs are bolder and more brutal, less interested in florid wording or oblique metaphor; they express feelings of alienation and self-loathing with discomfiting clarity.
Tividad frequently uses metaphors of death or the divine to express a feeling of chaotic, helpless infatuation. Sometimes, as on “Junkie,” where she coos like Hannah Diamond over a barely-there dembow beat, the analogy is straightforward: A lyric like “I’m a sin for the saint you made me/Let your body destroy and change me” sits clearly in a lineage of songs that use worship as a metaphor for sex. But on the country-tinged “Faultline,” things feel more complicated: “My body’s just a landscape for your sin,” she sings, only to admit, moments later, that her desires have gone unchecked, too: “I wanted everything so much it grows/Until I can’t manage this appetite.” There are no heroes or villains in these songs—just lost souls, waiting for the earth to swallow them up.
If Tividad’s songs depict sex as something dissociative and indulgent, Tucker’s depict the act as a site of embodiment and self-determination, if not always in a particularly healthy way. On “Violet,” romantic attachment is fleeting but visceral—“When you held me like a doll, that’s when I felt so fucking strong/But without lust I get lost,” he sings—while on the industrial clanker “Country Star,” a sexual fantasy about a cowboy is more about self-actualization than the sex itself. The writing has grown more distinctive and abject, but Tividad and Tucker are still writing the kinds of stories they’ve always specialized in—looking for faith in other people and coming up short.