Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Review: Girlpool, Before the World Was Big

Girlpool comprises Cleo Tucker (guitar, vocals) and Harmony Tividad (bass, vocals).  I saw them open for Jenny Lewis in Northampton, MA last November and for Waxahatchee in Boston last month.

They're young, just out of high school, recent transplants to Philadelphia from Los Angeles.  Before the World Was Big is their first full-length album, following up a 2014 self-titled EP.

Cleo and Harmony offer a unique sound, just the two of them, stripped down, so far devoid of percussion or other instrumentation.  Their vocals are suitably raw as well, while they sing in harmony, unison, and alternating parts.

They have some potent lyrics in their back pocket, addressing growing pains and insecurity.  "I'm still here, remember me, Emily," they implore in the song "Emily."  In "I Like That You Can See It," the album's closer, they sing, "Is it pouring out my body? My nervous aching" and "My mind is almost 19, and I still feel angry/I'm searching for the reason."

"Chinatown" is a standout track and my personal favorite.  The music and the lyrics meld so well, and these are some of Girlpool's best lyrics:  "Do you feel restless when you realize you're alive?"  "If I loved myself would I take it the wrong way?" "I'm still looking for sureness in the way I say my name." A version released ahead of the album as a single (and closest to the live rendition) is louder and more raw than the wistful, softened album version.  Each version lends the song a different interpretation.  I like that they did both.  The song deserves both treatments.

What is most appealing about Girlpool is the band's authentic voice, which its members put front and center.  I'm looking forward to more from them.  Like I told Cleo at the Boston show, I think they are rising stars.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Review of The Girl on the Train

Paula Hawkins' debut novel The Girl on the Train just reached the mark of one million copies sold.  One could say it is a runaway hit that has really picked up steam (okay, I'll stop now).

Title character Rachel takes the same commuter train every day, keeping up appearances to her roommate after she is fired from her job.  The train regularly stops in front of a house inhabited by a couple on whom Rachel fixates.  She views their life as perfect.  At the same time, she is haunted by her old life and failed marriage.  She regularly numbs her emotions with alcohol and has a hard time moving on.

One day, from the train, Rachel sees the woman she calls "Jess" (whose real name is Megan) kissing a man who is not her husband, and then the following day she goes missing.  Rachel offers what she knows to police, and gets entangled in the investigation.

The plot will keep you guessing the whole way through.  How many readers will guess what is behind Megan's disappearance?  I was certainly taken by surprise.

The characters are neither well developed nor likable.  This flaw does not matter a great deal, though, as the suspense story is the driving force of the novel.

Why is the book a giant sensation, the one that everyone wants to read?  The success of Gone Girl and the marketing of this book to its fans has something to do with it.  Luckily, The Girl on the Train is decently written and keeps you on the edge of your seat.  Though not high literature or even particularly book discussion worthy, it is entertaining.