Big Girl– Big Girl Vs. God
Big Girl is in no rush. And why should they be? Six fantastically talented musicians bring the debut album to life, and Big Girl vs. GOD gives them all room to breathe. Many of the NYC sextet’s tracks approach—or even surpass—five minutes, and every second is well spent. Lead singer Kaitlin Pelkey’s masterful and purposeful vocals give way to long breaks that allow everything to shine: Crispin Swank’s guitar and Pelkey’s own riffs compliment each other without competing; the drums brilliantly shepherd us through songs that can shift from thoughtful and soft to angry and frenzied in a millisecond; and what better to ground us through it all than the distinct yet cohesive basslines? (Provided by Elizabeth Sullivan on the record and more recently by Nico Astudillo live.) Add backup singers Christina Schwedler and Melody Stolpp to the mix, the whole thing produced alongside Justin Pizzoferrato (who has worked with Pixies, Dinosaur Jr. and Speedy Ortiz), and you’ve got yourself quite a band, relatively big, as their name suggests. But the medley of sounds, minds, and skills is anything but sloppy—they are a force to be reckoned with.
The album’s name suggests something too, and it’s right: there is something holy, reverent, apocalyptic even, about this album, which Pelkey wrote while coping with the loss of her mother. “After the screaming / we are holy divided / holy divided,” goes the first track, “Instructions 2 Say Sorry.” And the fourth tracks, “Summer Sickness,” has the background vocalists crooning like a chorus of angels (or ghosts, or something).
Big Girl (photo by Brendan Miller)
The lyrics are all wonderfully poetic, the kinds that would work just as well in a book or read aloud on poem-in-your-pocket day at school. It’s curiously contradictory, too—a lot of the album is spooky, but cathartic; intimate, but universal. At times the album is melancholic in a Phoebe Bridgers sort of way, and at others it is energetic and invigorating—usually all in the same song. It’s also familiar, but foreign—uncanny almost. Like it feels like it should be bright and cheery, like it’s got all the components of that tone—bright, upbeat guitars, Pelkey’s rosy soprano lilt with even perkier backup. But it’s not. Sometimes it’s the harrowing lyrics (“I hear them echo / the guns and the sirens”), and sometimes it’s a growing hint of rage or grief behind Pelkey’s voice, and sometimes it’s something in the notes, in the guitar solos or the synths in the background.
“Do you like it? / Yeah! It’s like sugar on my teeth,” is the chorus of “Cadillacs,” a radiant bop that isn’t as happy-go-lucky as the backup “la la la”s and Pelkey’s excited, almost manic vocals would lead you to believe. This anti-capitalist diddy is digestibly saccharine—until, that is, Pelkey belts out the words “…makes you wanna scream!” with absolutely masterful control. Then the track (d)evolves into controlled chaos, our candy-coated “la la la”s turning frantic and robotic before fading (floating, it feels like, reverberating out into the ether) away, and some more holy (but grounded, compared to that brief bout of angry chaos) vocals see us off: “It’s so pure to have a dream anymore.”
Maybe it’s because they also released a new song this week, but Be Your Own Pet came to my mind when I was listening to this, specifically their outrageous hit “Becky” that is similarly peppy-yet-furious. But “Cadillacs” is not so silly: it’s a look at the surface versus what’s below it, to me; that smile we put on our faces when we really want to scream because…Well, look around! It’s punk rock in its subject matter, and sort of its whole own thing in genre. One thing is for certain, though: Pelkey is angry, and so am I. After all, sugar rots your teeth…I’d prefer it on my tongue.
And speaking of tongues… “Mother Tongue” is my favorite of the bunch. Super rock ‘n’ roll but also, somehow, like a broadway musical? The lyrics are brilliant: “Sincerely, I’ve always had this vanity inside me / frightening to externalize”; “Make me sleek and clean / feel my touch screen.” It’s an unsettling, far-too-relatable examination of this technological age, of social media and whatever the heck it’s all doing to us, or maybe what it says about us, that was already there.
“Big Car Full Of Mistakes” starts off sounding like the soundtrack to some coming of age adventure movie. A synth in the mix gives us those magical little twinkles and 8-bit chords. Suffocating lyrics make things a little less fantastical, though: “She always had something tight around her neck / some old chain / some new man / some old song she can’t forget.” I saw a fireworks display in Queens recently, and it was structured just like this song: a big frenzied climax near the end followed by a couple bursts of color, and then, just when you think it’s over…one last bang to dazzle you. Pelkey takes us on a journey with each of these songs: not just a beginning and a middle and an end, but an entire feature-length film, it seems, or an epic poem, with trials and tribulations, lows and highs, peace and chaos, comic reliefs and spirals into madness.
The final track, “it’s so pure” is all in lowercase. It also sounds like lowercase. The other five band members take a break as Pelkey whispers over just a piano. Big Girl knows when to bring the chaos, but they also know when to do simplicity. Purity, I guess. The recording is even a little lo-fi, and unlike the rest of the tracks, this one barely hits two minutes. The lyrics are poetic—perhaps the most poetic of them all—simply “It’s so pure to have a dream anymore,” repeated a few times. Wait a sec—haven’t we heard that before? (We have, in “Cadillacs.” The continuity!). Pelkey knows how to say a lot without saying much, which is why the instrumentals have done so much of the talking this whole time. And there’s a lot we can say about purity, about innocence these days when you can’t avoid knowing things. There’s a loneliness here, amplified by the track’s proximity to the rest of them, by its place in an album otherwise filled with so many sounds so elegantly mixed, always something else to focus on each time you listen—each detail, each layer of noise, each frequency seemingly meticulously placed for the very purpose of not leaving us alone with our doom-spiraling thoughts. But now it’s quiet.
This mind-bending, genre-melding, apocalyptically hopeful (or hopefully apocalyptic?) release is a spectacular debut for a powerful, skilled sextet of musicians. Maybe it’s the unbridled power and talent this band seems to have behind their instruments, but there really is a general sort of godliness to all of this, to these big grand songs brimming with all these intricate little details. I dunno: if this is Big Girl vs. GOD… Well, god never wrote any songs I listened to on repeat, so…
Big Girl vs. GOD is out now via Weird Sister Records and available on all major streamers.