The LA indie rock duo Girlpool first made waves with their single “Chinatown,” a near perfect piece of millenial folk music, from their 2015 debut album “Before The World Was Big.” In the track, Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker tenderly reflect on their budding adulthood and the uneasy existential questions it poses, asking in the chorus, “Do you feel restless when you realize you're alive?” over soothingly-strummed guitar. Singing about their experiences growing up is nothing new for Girlpool. Now, with three albums and one EP under their belt, their music has grown and developed with them. Their latest release, “What Chaos is Imaginary,” like their critically-acclaimed second album “Powerplant” before it, is both a deepening of and departure from their previous sound. Tividad and Tucker skillfully balance the old and the new in a startlingly lovely and evocative listen.
“Lucy’s,” the album opener, begins with Tucker singing about “an unfamiliar place where you’d rather stay.” It’s a fitting beginning to an album that captures the band moving in new directions. Whereas Tividad and Tucker often sang in unison in past albums, here they frequently have distinct tracks featuring their independent voices. Tividad sings in a higher register and Tucker in a lower — between albums Tucker came out as transgender and began hormone replacement therapy which deepened his voice to a tenor. While Girlpool has always sounded confident — consider their 2014 self-titled debut EP featuring tracks like the wonderfully direct “American Beauty”: “It's not enough to watch a movie / Eat me out to American Beauty” — Tucker sounds especially self-assured on their latest release. In “Hire,” an album stand-out, Tucker reflects on new becomings and life under late capitalism — “Will I make the matinée with my newest life… are you gonna hire me?” — over pleasantly jangling, fuzzy indie rock backing. In the last third of the track, he lets loose with a handsomely raw-edged rasp, a satisfying conclusion to a stunning new song.
Girlpool are not only exploring new domains sonically, but also lyrically. They’ve always had a knack for verse, as shown by earlier releases. That’s not to say that this album is without more direct verses. “Pretty,” for instance, finds Tividad singing about outgrowing a dysfunctional relationship in relatively direct terms: “You were such an idol / Yeah, you were the whole world / Now you see you look / Pretty broken,” making a pun of the word “pretty.” Yet more often on this album Girlpool’s lyrics are decidedly less direct, and in lines that range from being dense with imagery to more lightly sketched they find an appealing poetry. The title track of the album is particularly striking in this regard. Over organ and string backing — a real departure for a band that previously used only guitar and bass — Tividad sings allusively about a series of experiences which, as she described in a press release, “culminated in [her] having horrific PTSD” which drove her “to redevelop a relationship with the world where I could find some illusion of 'safety' and belief in the fact that I could ultimately take care of myself." It’s a vulnerable track, both lyrically and sonically, and Tividad sings with moving strength. The concluding lyrics are particularly affecting — “I loved him and his violence for the pretty view / Rehearsed a strange reality what chaos is imaginary.”
Fortunately, on this album Tividad doesn’t have to concede to a false reality or relegate chaos to the realm of the imaginary. Through the fourteen tracks of the album Tividad and Tucker, sometimes independently and sometimes together, find new modes and methods of further exploring and becoming themselves.
—Staff writer A.J. Cohn can be reached at email@example.com.
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