As the story goes, Craig McCracken, creator of the Powerpuff Girls, was taking an animation class, complete with a final project. McCracken noticed that most of his fellow students were doing superhero projects -- the testosterone-filled slugfests that the rest of the world, for right or wrong, associates with superheroes. McCracken, then, wondered what it would be like to create a really girly superhero team. And so the Powerpuff Girls were born.
A similar argument can be made, I think, for punk rock, whatever is left of it. While female artists have made gains in every genre of popular music, punk seems to remain a boys' club like no other genre, save perhaps metal. At least, this is what the marketing types use to sell more records. Of course, there have been all-female or female-fronted punk acts from the beginning: from Patti Smith to L7 and Bikini Kill to Sleater-Kinney. Still, female punk acts have had to succeed or fail, for the most part, in matching their male counterparts scowl for scowl. So, at first, Tuuli may be notable because, to this point, few if any female punkers have managed to sound this . . . well . . . girly.
Of course, pop-punk is a different kettle of ink entirely. Here, the often hard-to-swallow angles of punk are trimmed down to a little bit of an edge. And I trace the moment Blink-182 started selling records as, simultaneously, the completion of punk's move into the mainstream, and the end of anything that made punk punk. Today's pop-punk heroes seem much less interested in rebellion than just having fun. My brother says that, tattoos and porn-star associations aside, Blink-182 is basically a boy band for people who don't want to admit they listen to boy bands.
And in fact, the "women of pop-punk" spectrum has become increasingly crowded in the last few years. Sleater-Kinney is a legitimate punk band with poppy tendencies. Moving over, the Donnas walk that edge like their heroes, the Ramones. Somewhere in between are the Bangs, and occasionally, the Selby Tigers. And over at the "pop" end, there's Letters to Cleo and the former Veruca Salt. Further down the line, Josie and the Pussycats (voiced, of course, by Cleo's Kay Hanley). Of those, Tuuli has the most in common with Josie and co, with the added bonus that they actually exist. (Not that the idea of a singer with the face of Rachel Leigh Cook and the voice of Kay Hanley isn't appealing.)
Enter Tuuli. Four chicks from Canada, playing the bubble-gummiest pop-punk this side of Josie and the Pussycats. (Is "bubble-punk" a word? It should be.) With their first full-length album, they continue what they started on 2000's EP Rockstar Potential, with no other goal in mind, it would seem, than to rock. Sugary, harmonious girl-pop with just enough punk edge to make things interesting. And interesting they are. And while the concept, sweet, female-fronted pop-punk, seems a marketing directors' dream, the songs on Here We Go never come across as contrived. The members of Tuuli are simply too enthusiastic for that to happen.
Because Here We Go is a dream. Almost every song is filled with energy and style, and perfect to sing along to. And whatever the members of Tuuli, Jenny MacIsaac and Dawn Mandarino on guitar, Claire Blake on bass, and new addition Jen Foster on drums (all four are credited with vocals, but I suspect MacIsaac and Mandarino do most of the primary singing), have been listening to, they know their shit. In this case, how to write a kickass pop song. I suspect it comes from the Ramones more than anyone else, but these "girls" know how songs work.
The tracks are uniformly good, starting from the opener, "Wake Up", to the closing title track. The songs are all similar, and Tuuli seem the strongest when they stay within the bounds that work for them. The one attempt at heavier fare, "Whipped", which comes off as trying to sound like Slayer, is the only bad song on the album. But then it's followed by "10 Miles to Go", the most anthemic track on the album ("12 shows in a row, there's no stopping us, it's what we're living for!"), in the best "Blitzkrieg Bop" tradition. The other departure from form is Tuuli's foray into teen pop, with "Thousand Stars" and the bonus track remix of "It's Over," which are marked by heavy drums with a machine-like effect. These songs both work, but it is clearly the fast and furious songs that they do best.
Because this album really rocks. Not just in a cute, girly sort of way, either. For while the songs are pretty simple when you look at them, their sound and arrangement are tight. I got into Tuuli from Rockstar Potential, but after listening to Here We Go for a while and going back to the EP, I was surprised at how slow it felt. It was still pretty kickass, but sounds nowhere near as good as the album. Case in point: "Who's the Fool Now?", the only song from the EP that is included on the full-length. The arrangement just feels much tighter, the instruments more in synch with each other, and the song more balanced, like they've been playing together longer and are starting to adjust to each other's playing. I also suspect some of it has to do with the addition of Jen Foster. I'm only starting to notice the drums in songs, and I'm getting the idea that the right drummer can be the key to everything, especially in a pop-punk band.
Like a lot of pop-punk, either you're going to love it or hate it. In Tuuli's case, even more so. The songs are incredibly energetic and catchy, the beat fast, and the harmonies golden. But on the other hand, wasn't music supposed to be deep and tortured and meaningful? Wasn't punk the expression of a rebellion against a corrupt society? Since when is having fun the only thing that matters? Of course, put that way, it sounds silly, but there are a lot of us, myself included, who grew up with those ideas. (Hell, I didn't lose myself in Tori Amos for 2 years because she made good songs to walk and shake your head to). So if you expect a serious message from music, you're probably going to shake your head in disgust, or at most, Tuuli will remain a guilty pleasure. This is not music that's going to help your street cred.
Personally, while I still sometimes feel a twinge of guilt, I try to ignore it, because I have found few CDs more enjoyable than this one (and I seriously think I have a crush on at least one of them, possibly more). To hell with changing the world -- I just want to be in a girl band. Not even the singer, really, just to play guitar on the side of the stage and occasionally wander up to the mic to shout "hey!" Tuuli makes me want to rock. And, for a while, there may be no higher ambition in all of music.