Album Review: Girlpool – What Chaos is Imaginary

Words by James Robertson

Changing sound from album to album can be a difficult feat for any band. Fans often don’t want to see the band they fell in love with suddenly move away from all the things they connected with and bands don’t want to stay static or unaltered. Growth is important. For Girlpool, duo Cleo Tucker and Harmony Trividad, change and growth are a necessity. Their debut album When the World Was Big dropped in 2015 when Trividad and Tucker were 18 and 17. The album found them with only guitars at their disposal, harking back to their youth with beautiful harmonies and playground style chanting. Their sophomore release, 2017’s Powerplant, added drums which rounded out the duo’s sound and allowed them to experiment more sonically, whilst still maintaining their folk-tinged garage rock. Maturing from teenagers to young adults naturally meant that their music changed with them. After the release of Powerplant, Tucker came out as transgender and started transitioning which resulted in their voice dropping an octave lower. No matter where the band went next musically, change was inevitable.

What Chaos is Imaginary comes at a tumultuous time, where the world isn’t quite the same place as it was and hope is harder to hold onto. That may sound cliche and almost every band at the moment comments on how the world in chaos is changing the way they write, but it makes sense. You have to write what you know and that now means there’s a lot of confusion and trying to make sense of things. Making sense of the world is where Girlpool shine. Where they once crafted songs together from the ground up, WCII instead sees them writing separately and at times on different sides of America. Crafting songs on their own has allowed Tucker and Trividad to get to terms with how they create; Trividad comes from a place of chaos and Tucker from a much more organised point. This introspection has allowed them to mature even further and offer each other fragments of songs that can then be twisted and combined to create a whole. You can hear their individuality shine through but you can also tell that working together is the best thing they know how to do.  

This process means WCII can seem at times like two records, the shimmering guitars and shoegaze influenced tracks like ‘Lucy’s’, ‘Where you Sink’ and the title track are placed alongside the jaunty and bouncing Elliot Smith-infused tracks, ‘Hire’ and ‘All Blacked Out’. Crafting an album like this can be a highwire act yet Girlpool pull it off effortlessly. The fact that Trividad and Tucker both shine on their individual tracks but then assist the other on backing vocals shows their maturity and confidence in their abilities. Their biggest strength has always been their piercing vocals and luscious harmonies which are undoubtedly present on this album, just adjusted. ‘Lucy’s’ drops us right into the order of the day: billowing drums, fuzzy shoegaze guitars and Tucker’s husky vocals permeating the ether. ‘Stale Device’ does the same but instead puts Trividad at the forefront. We’re introduced to the new Girlpool format quickly and adjustment is easy.

Arrangement and composition is clearly something the duo are adept at. ‘Stale Device’ and ‘Where you Sink’ both showcase beautiful melodies, creating a luscious choir of backing vocals that allow the songs to swell. ‘Where You Sink’ finds Trividad’s vocals nestled within the powerful instrumentation, at times in danger of being lost, but then that seems to be the point. Trividad’s voice floats along with the choir of guitars becoming another powerful instrument at the duo’s disposal. Throughout the album, Girlpool blend shoegaze with moments of serene dream pop, channelling Cocteau Twins and Beach House, ‘Minute In Your Mind’ being a prime example.

Reflection and contemplation are at the heart of the record and the tender moments in ‘All Blacked Out’ demonstrate the band’s knack for lyricism and riffs that quickly become earworms. The crux of the album is the 1-2 knockout of ‘Minute In Your Mind’ and title track ‘What Chaos is Imaginary’. Both songs coalesce beautifully as a pair, just like the band themselves. On the title track, Trividad tackles mental health issues through delicate lyrics encased in a hurricane of sound – a perfect demonstration of what this album is setting out to accomplish.

With a heavy 14 tracks, the album at first glance looks dense and yet every song has a purpose and proves its right to be there. The balance of heady emotional anguish with garage rock ditties creates a listening experience that constantly surprises and very rarely outstays its welcome. What Chaos Is Imaginary occupies a space of transience, a document that sits firmly in a time of literal and metaphorical transitioning, a personal record that allows the duo, now adults to put the world to rights and find their place in it.