Forgiveness is the fourth studio album by Girlpool, but you could easily mistake it for another band’s work. There’s no straight line from the pared-down K Records sound of their debut, Before The World Was Big, to the bombastic industrial glitches and groans that give Forgiveness its brutalist foundation. “Since Girlpool started, I’ve changed a lot,” says band member Harmony Tividad. “I didn’t know what I was made from, the fabric of my being.” She and bandmate Avery Tucker haven’t just grown — they’ve burst through their confines. Forgiveness is the crater left by that explosion, studded with memory-debris: burdens from old exes, fantasies never quite made real, photographs of previous, wounded selves.
On opener “Nothing Gives Me Pleasure,” those wounds are literal. “Bite my tongue until it bleeds,” sings Tividad’s narrator. “I’ll smile at the feeling.” The song is about sex — the rough kind, with choking and screaming and “fingers up my ass.” It’s “painfully intimate,” says Tividad, and that’s the joke: “I was kind of playing with how physically intimate you could be with someone, and how little you get in return emotionally.” It’s the first of many songs on Forgiveness to throw light into the gap between physical touch and emotional knowledge. Tucker sings the next track, “Lie Love Lullaby,” about a relationship rife with envy and deceit. The lies passing between Tucker and his partner matter as much as the sex they share — and even that’s sweeter in rosy-eyed retrospect. “I cum so much to memory,” Tucker sings.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder; it can also, inconveniently, make the heart forget. “Dragging My Life Into A Dream” could be a missive from Tucker’s older, wiser self to the narrator of “Lie Love Lullaby.” He yearns mightily for a past lover, but he recognizes, too, the yawning void between what the relationship was and what he wished it had been. What to do with all that yearning, though? Where to put it? “The most cathartic part of that song was allowing myself to lean into wanting it,” he says. “I felt like I wanted it again, and a better way than, like, going to get it, was to write about wanting it.”
What else do Girlpool want? Tividad imagines, in the lyrics of “Junkie,” a childhood that never was, where she and a close friend could have explored their romantic feelings for one another instead of letting them lie. “We would listen to emo music and cry together in her closet,” says Tividad, laughing. “And it was like, so obviously gay.” Tividad, who was raised in a number of faith traditions — she nearly attended Catholic school but didn’t go, in the end; the environment wasn’t exactly friendly to freewheeling artists — makes use of the imagery of churches, graveyards, buried secrets. Tucker’s imagination goes to dark places, too, in the stand-out “Country Star,” a brooding ballad fit for Jack and Ennis’s tent. Tucker, who came out as trans in 2017, says, “After many years of settling into my masculinity, I think that my relationship to other men definitely shifted.” He found himself drawn to the lawbreaking energy and stand-off dynamics of cowboys. Rather than living “comfortably” with a “sweet” little lady, the narrator of “Country Star” yearns to be utterly subsumed by a cowboy. “I wanna be your sin boy, baby,” Tucker sings. The musical backing is anything but country — spiky and sinister, with synths as jagged as broken glass.
Tucker and Tividad feel no shame in divulging these fantasies. Throughout the record, they shower compassion on their younger selves, recognizing they’ve done the best they can. “I was looking at something that looked just like love,” they sing, on “Love333,” together, returning to the tight harmonies that made Girlpool’s name. Appearances can deceive; it’s all so easy to look at cruelty and see love, to mistake bulletholes for butterflies. “Everything we experience creates mental patterns that we then project out into the world,” says Tividad. “The more I’m traumatized by these bulletholes, the less sure I get about what I know and who I love.” What if these patterns repeat themselves? Tucker worries, on “See Me Now,” about a lover looking at “old pictures of my band.” Will the past sully every future relationship?
Girlpool recognizes these struggles, but never dwells on them. Loving the wrong person, living in the wrong body — rather than regretting the time they’ve lost, they look for clarity in what they’ve managed to carry with them. “I love those old songs as relics,” says Tucker. “I don’t feel like the same person, but it’s like someone I used to know.” Tividad, too, sees the songs of Forgiveness as natural evolutions of her former work. “Nothing Gives Me Pleasure,” she says, is “the grown-up version” of “Slutmouth,” a song from Girlpool’s very earliest EP about the push-pull of sexual desire and slut-shaming.
There’s a refreshing frankness, honesty, and ugliness in the many moods of Forgiveness. It is more adventurous, and far more ambitious, than any record the band has yet released. Listening, you’ll be awestruck at how far Tucker and Tividad have come since they sang their first frayed harmony. They’ve made messes; they’ve ruined relationships. They’ve also stepped, with confidence and courage, into the world of adulthood. They’ve arrived. Any failings can be forgiven.
Forgiveness is out 4/29 via Anti. Pre-order it here.