Girlpool’s new album, titled What Chaos Is Imaginary, is an album about change. It embodies the concept of transitions and shifts within a breadth of their manifestations- physical, mental, emotional, and musical. Fittingly, the album offers a diverse set of tracks that mark growth in Girlpool both as a band and as individuals.
Girlpool was formed as a guitar and bass duo in 2013 by best friends Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad. Their 2014 debut album Before the World Was Big was recorded when the pair were still in high school. Since then, Girlpool has added a drummer to their lineup, expanding their sound through new instrumentation and collaborations with artists like Blood Orange.
One of the biggest changes that has affected Girlpool, however, is the recent transitioning of band member Cleo Tucker. Tucker came out as transgender in 2018, and since then they have been taking hormones which have affected the range of their voice. In addition to the personal changes Tucker has undergone, their transition has affected Girlpool musically. Tucker and Tividad’s singing no longer coalesces into a harmonized unit, but stand side by side as complementary voices. Despite this, the pair seem closer than ever before in their songwriting and performance.
It is this intimacy, shared between two friends who are growing up and discovering themselves, that make What Chaos Is Imaginary compelling. Though Tucker is still adapting to their new voice, they confidently harmonize with Tividad on the album’s dreamy opening track “Lucy’s.” Tucker’s spacious, gruff electric guitar strums meld perfectly Tividad’s pumping basslines, evoking shades of 90’s shoegaze a la My Bloody Valentine.
Yet, Girlpool expands beyond the trappings of indie rock music throughout What Chaos Is Imaginary. “Chemical Freeze” drifts lazily along with single note guitar lines and atmospheric drips of reverb, which cascades into an architecture of trip-hop drums. Tucker displays their control over their newfound tenor voice, softening each syllable of the lyrics into a chilled-out hush mirrored by Tividad’s counter-point harmonies.
“Minute in Your Mind” features an 80’s post-rock sway set atop a bed of swirling synth pads. Tucker’s guitar lines are soaked with a generous amount of reverb, soaring across the horizon of the song’s soundscape. The album’s title track, “What Chaos Is Imaginary,” mixing things up as Tividad takes command of vocal duties. The song is comprised of atmospheric synth chords and electronic drums similar to those in “Minute in Your Mind,” but halfway through the runtime a tastefully arranged string section arrives to complement Tividad’s delicate vocals.
The title track also represents one of the most personal moments on the album; Tividad wrote the lyrics for the song, and was inspired by her struggles with mental health. “I wrote it at the most vulnerable point I have ever had thus far in my life,” Tividad explained in an interview with Paste magazine. At the time, Tividad was struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder which cast a cloud of white noise over all of her interactions. “This song is about reckoning with this,” Tividad said, “trying to find a path to forgive myself.”
The subject matter occupying the runtime of What Chaos Is Imaginary if formidable: transitioning gender, dealing with mental health, and growing up in general are all incredibly difficult endeavours. Girlpool’s willingness to address these topics and embrace what it means to grow and change make their new album a worthwhile, meaningful listen.
4 out of 5 stars.