It’s no secret that unity is important to Girlpool. The band has an irrefutable ability to work in unison with each other, which results in something truly amazing. Their first album, Before the World Was Big, was heralded as being an excellent body of work, in most part due to that specific reason. Powerplant, the band’s 2017 release, received even more praise for the duo expressing their vulnerability inward and exploring new sounds. On What Chaos is Imaginary, the L.A. based group is trying to expand their musical palette by once again working in new instruments into their repertoire and utilizing outside collaborators. Instead of sticking to traditional instruments, the group decided to use synths, strings, and drum machines. As a result, the production feels much more expansive, which is both a detriment and a benefit.
The duo of Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad is still one of the best within the realm of indie rock, no debate can be made there. They still possess an uncharacteristic amount of synergy with each other, despite Tucker’s voice shifting up a pitch. When the record begins, Tucker’s voice is the first immediate change that fans will hear and it is pleasant, to say the least. They are able to bring a sense of firmness and stability to these tracks, which is definitely a welcome addition to the group’s list of positives. Opening track “Lucy” is a fantastic look at how the band uses this new vocal change. Tucker takes the lead and they are able to move the track in a direction that is wholly new to the band.
On “Pretty”, which is easily the best track, the two lament about not being good enough for this particular individual. The song possesses one of the best guitar work on the entire record with a definitive twinge of the early 2000s sprinkled at the forefront of the instrumentation. It’s hard to ignore the absolutely crushing lyrics in this track as well―It’s very reminiscent of a few moments from Frankie Cosmo’s last album Vessel.
I drive 500 miles a week
I count my words I hate to speak
I remember seeing you in dreams
Trying to understand what this sadness means
I hate the way I feel confused
Like I’ll always be a part of youGirlpool, “Pretty”
There is a decent mix of slow and mid-tempo songs in the tracklisting. With Girlpool opting to incorporate more of a spacious approach this time around, What Chaos can feel both welcoming and distant simultaneously. This approach works wonders on “Stale Device”, “Swamp and Bay”, and the aforementioned “Pretty”, where the pace is steady and the song flows along decently. On the slower songs like “Chemical Freeze”, “Hoax and the Shrine”, and the title track, the record almost hits a dead-stop in terms of its pace. While the latter does feature some pretty instrumentation and some great drumming, it’s ultimately hindered by the length being five-plus minutes.
The central issue with What Chaos tends to meander along during the slower- tempo tracks. The pacing of the album, while not grueling by any means, can often feel a bit taxing at times. In comparison to Powerplant and Before the World Was Big, this album fails to meet the highs of those by a decent margin. Tracks like “Kiss and Burn” and “Ideal World” are examples of Girlpool at their finest, with Tucker and Tividad’s vocals intertwining perfectly alongside a punchy guitar passage. That’s not to say that What Chaos is completely lacking in high marks, but they are scattered throughout, which can lead to a bit of annoyance for the listener. The end result is an album that mostly accomplishes it’s goal, but not all of the way.