The back story to plunderphonic-pop-soul duo Girlhood is intriguing. Producer Christian Pinchbeck (previously in dreamy retro two-piece Elephant) and vocalist Tessa Cavanna (also performs under the project name Tiece) met in a quasi British romantic comedy fashion. Pinchbeck was driving his narrowboat on a summer’s day in East London in 2017 when he was suddenly magnetized by the voice of a Kenyan-born woman, belting out as she strolled past the area. Like the classic kids’ show Rosie & Jim, Pinchbeck’s narrowboat was unique, for it doubled as a record studio. Pinchbeck managed to charm Cavanna into making a few demos with him, before eventually after three years their debut self-titled album as Girlhood was born.
You can hear some atmospherics on the record that help picture them in creative mode whilst sailing through a windy yet sunny London lake. This being really effective on the album’s intro ‘Queendom’, with subtle rain on ‘Fever Sweat’ and ‘It Might Take A Woman’ and birds noticeably chirping on the minimalistic piano piece ‘Fall Away’. It’s a shame that those are really the only examples. It wouldn’t have been pretentious to use it even further, using their specific setting to their advantage.
Christian Pinchbeck’s production method is also noteworthy. Taking inspiration from The Avalanches, it’s made of samples rather than live instruments. Hear snippets of voices: children shouting in a playground on ‘Hold On’ and applause on ‘Bad Decisions’ and ‘My Boy’. Sampled instruments include a pretty use of harp on ‘Fever Sweat’ and a reoccurring 1990’s saxophone on ‘Sister’, ‘Milk & Honey’ and ‘My Boy’. Pinchbeck also uses elements that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Portishead record; from the record swipes, triphop beats and the stuttering ‘Machine Gun’ electronics. However, the samples don’t always fit together, as it sometimes creates awkward disjointed time signatures, as in the case of ‘Sister’ (which features piano that’s reminiscent of Robbie Williams‘ ‘Feel’), which sounds like when you accidentally stream two songs at the same time.
There’s no denying that vocalist Tessa Cavanna has a voice that is delightful to listen to, with its breezy and sunny nature, if unoriginal. It harks back to the time when Capital FM would play Gabrielle constantly on rotation. In fact many tracks off Girlhood sound like they would be played on that radio station near the end of 90s, including the catchy and clap-provoking ‘The Love I Need’. The track begins interestingly with what sounds like a hillbilly country song before this sample goes through a gospel pop filter – it also features a preacher’s speech to add to these celebratory vibes.
“I want you to see the love I need. Be aware,” are the closing lyrics to the album which aims to encourage emotional and honest discussion, as well as the need to be heard and understood. This is displayed in tracks that talk about the doubts that come with ambition on ‘Keep On’, calls for help when hitting rock bottom on ‘Bad Decisions’ or fixing sibling disputes on ‘Sister’.
On the opening track, Tessa Cavanna invites us into her communal world of honesty: “Cause we are blood, dirt and star-dust. Floating, in love, come and join us.” Well, if there’s room to spare, park the Girlhood narrowboat and we’ll hop on.