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Girlpool - What Chaos Is Imaginary (Album Review)

Thursday, 14 February 2019 Written by Grant Jones

Photo: Gina Canavan

On their third album, ‘What Chaos is Imaginary’, L.A. duo Girlpool attempt to expand out of the sometimes kitsch folk-rock milieu of their previous releases. By truly exposing themselves honestly, they manage to do so with confidence and no little style.

We are welcomed to the album with a heavy hand. The opening track, Lucy, instantly introduces fuzzy guitars and lumbering grunge tones that are prevalent throughout, but it isn’t long before we are greeted by the first of many folk-inspired, almost jazz-tinged guitar melodies on Hire and All Blacked Out.

Shifting the band’s momentum, but seeming entirely at ease, these songs add a jaunty step that colours the record. Lyrically, much of ‘What Chaos is Imaginary’ deals with heartache, self-doubt, confusion and despondency, but there is a seam of bittersweet joy that frames the music—a comforting melancholy delivered through melody and tone.

The meandering harmonies that moulded Girlpool’s last two records—their 2015 debut ‘Before the World Was Big’ and 2017’s ‘Powerplant’—are not lost here, but a new dynamic has also been created.

This is the band’s first LP since guitarist and vocalist Cleo Tucker came out as transgender and began hormone replacement therapy, which has guided their voice into a deeper register. In a practical sense, this allows for greater distinction between Tucker and bandmate Harmony Tividad’s vocals, but the confidence and conviction that comes from such a decision also shines from this release.

Hire sees the introduction of an actual drum kit, something that was present on their previous release and has become more a mainstay of their live shows, to complement a slate of electronic percussion sounds. Though the synthetic rhythms stand up well, particularly on the the title track and standout Chemical Freeze, the addition of Ross Wallace-Chait on drums lends added drive to the ethereal atmosphere that coats the release. It is only during Hire, Lucky Joe, Swamp and Bay, and Joseph’s Dad that you could imagine yourself swaying away quite jovially at a live show.

Although the album is 14 tracks long, it doesn’t feel drawn out or lackadaisical, owing to the fact that most songs are sub three minutes. However, the surrealist air that fogs the LP grows tiresome. The constantly whispered vocals, although necessary on a few tracks, end up coming across as forced and one-note. The honesty so prevalent throughout on the lyric sheet is clouded somewhat by the presentation. Still, with experimental voyages, indie-pop bouncers and mature dives into post-punk, ‘What Chaos is Imaginary’ is a solid musical exploration and an intriguing next step in Girlpool’s story.

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