For many of us, 2019 has been a year of flux — politically, culturally, professionally, personally. It’s hard to envision what the future might bring since the recent past has shown us that we don’t know half the things we thought we knew. In unsteady times, music can be a balm and also a mirror. More »
When this decade began, MP3s still reigned supreme. Now, at the end of it, a song is no longer even a file — it’s ephemera, on every streaming service and available to hear in myriad ways. For better and worse, the song (and the single) have become the norm for the general public’s music consumption. More »
13 months ago, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga released “Shallow,” their histrionic, melodramatic, instantly iconic duet from Cooper’s film A Star Is Born. The moment where the two of them sing “Shallow” in the film turned out to be the most electric scene in the entire picture, and since then “Shallow” … More »
Earlier this year, the great LA-borne duo Girlpool came back with the rich, thoughtful What Chaos Is Imaginary. It’s their third album and their first since Cleo Tucker, one half of the band, came out as trans. Today, the band has shared a new video for the What Chaos Is Imaginary track “Minute … More »
What Chaos Is Imaginary
From the beginning, Cleo Tucker’s and Harmony Tividad’s mutualism has been at the fore of Girlpool’s music. The L.A.-based duo would either sing in featherweight, too-pure-for-this-world harmonies or in frantic shout-sung mania, their voices in both cases sounding so simpatico that it was nearly impossible to distinguish one singer from the other. And though they had met mere months before releasing their 2014 self-titled debut, the Girlpool sound they established on that EP was one that suggested at least a decade of airtight camaraderie.
On What Chaos Is Imaginary, the group’s latest outing and follow up to 2017’s Powerplant, that synergy is still apparent, galvanized here by the same fervor and leavened by the same delicacy that informed Girlpool’s first three releases. There’s the late-90s alternative rock verve of “Hire,” which ardor reaches a fever pitch during Tucker’s grungy shout in the song’s second half. Conversely, though, Tividad will often provide a softer counterpoint to her bandmate’s more truculent vocal style, as in the timid falsetto on “Hoax and the Shrine.” What Chaos paints the band as more of a yin and yang, two disparate but complementary figures, than the mirror images they seemed to be on Girlpool’s older material.
The most obvious change in the group’s sound is Tucker’s voice, now a sturdy tenor reminiscent of Jim Reid that’s equally capable of tough standoffishness and vulnerable rumination. The former quality shines through on tracks like album opener “Lucy’s,” as he sharply enunciates each syllable of his words on top of a fuzzy, chugging guitar line. The latter, however, is evident on “All Blacked Out,” an Elliott Smith-inspired number that channels the late singer’s penchant for half-whispered lyrics of desperation and malaise. Tividad, on the other hand, is more singular in her delivery, favoring introspection over forthrightness. This disposition is typified on the title track, an aching synth ballad on which her talent for airy-yet-expressive vocals is fully realized. On the record is a very clear preponderance of poignant slow cuts to speedier tracks: Chaos leans heavily on slow-burning tracks (sometimes to a fault), which makes its scarce moments of aggression all the more significant and powerful.
Continuing the practice they began on Powerplant, Tucker and Tividad further luxuriate in abstract lyricism. “You look out the window like/ There’s a goodbye every day/ You’re waking up alive,” Tucker sings on “Swamp and Bay.” Tividad dreamily pronounces “It’s the Montana drive where you once lived by the sea/ All the kids you thought had bigger eyes/ Consumed by schemes” on “Stale Device.” Perhaps on a dadaist bent, these lyrics are best consumed one line at a time, as context rarely clarifies the singers’ words. The most salient theme to be parsed on the album is that of displacement, the feeling of being in a specific place but never feeling present. Several of the songs on this album were culled from Tucker’s and Tividad’s solo projects and rerecorded, making the cohesion in the album all the more impressive; Cleo and Harmony were largely removed from one another during the writing of “Where You Sink,” for example, and this sense of separation and physical absence resonates throughout the rest of Chaos’s lyrics, as inscrutable as they may seem.
What Chaos Is Imaginary’s greatest weakness is its pacing. Fourteen songs over forty-five minutes doesn’t require much patience on the listener’s end, but when the album relies mostly on mid-tempo dirges, it becomes more of a slog than most would prefer. And while there are many high points in the record’s slower cuts, Chaos could have benefited greatly from another “Kiss and Burn” or “Magnifying Glass,” briefer songs to counteract the more subdued moments on the album. Still, What Chaos Is Imaginary serves as an important document of the Girlpool narrative: a juncture in the band’s career that highlights the emotional (and in Tucker’s case, physical) changes its artists are reckoning with as their success grows in the indie community. Girlpool aren’t trying to combat chaos, they’re simply trying to brook it.
I have a very good friend who will never get over what happened with the Mountain Goats. This friend discovered the Mountain Goats when the Mountain Goats was just John Darnielle, slashing at an acoustic guitar and braying weirdly perfect two-minute poetic sentiments into boombox microphones. When the Mountain Goats became an actual band, one … More »
It has been a blast, these past few years, to watch Girlpool grow and expand, changing their sound with every album. Not that long ago, Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad were Los Angeles teenagers, best friends and products of the DIY punk underground, howling in unison over acoustic guitars. But they’ve relentlessly pushed their sound … More »
Next month, Girlpool will release the follow-up album to 2017’s Powerplant. We’ve heard three excellent singles from the forthcoming What Chaos Is Imaginary. Today, they share the album’s title track. Harmony Tividad’s falsetto soars over an organ, cinematic violins, and a slow-bumping kick … More »
A month ago, Girlpool released “Where You Sink” and “Lucy’s,” a pair of extremely promising new songs that showed the band continuing to evolve into a richly layered indie rock project. Today the duo is serving up another banger plus details on the follow-up to 2017’s Powerplant. More »
Last year, Girlpool released their excellent sophomore album, Powerplant, which landed on our best albums of 2017 list. They followed that up with a one-off with Dev Hynes, “Picturesong,” earlier this year, and ahead of a fall tour with Porches, they’re sharing two new songs called “Where You Sink” … More »