Individuality is integral in art. Regardless of whether every given artist always strives to achieve it or not, it is often a major deciding factor in the degree to which said art lasts the test of time. Suffice to say, since the band’s inception in 2013, this is not something that Girlpool has ever had to worry about. Even upon listening to the their 2014 self-titled EP and its rebellious, passionate, “Riot Grrrl”-esque sound, there’s no mistaking them for anyone but them. The same can undoubtedly be said for their first LP, Before the World Was Big: its nostalgic, interweaving harmonies, alongside the impassioned melodic ballads of 2017’s Powerplant cemented Girlpool’s distinct artistic voice. However, with their third LP, What Chaos is Imaginary, the L.A. duo brings something more to the table.
In many ways, the songs on this album feel much the same as those on Powerplant—they are bittersweet and lethargic in a way that has become somewhat signature to Girlpool. At the same time, there is a noticeable shift in composition, exploring sounds that set the album apart from the rest of their discography. Where many of the band’s previous works felt more nostalgic and almost playful with its warm, interweaving harmonies and nearly reminiscing lyricism, What Chaos is Imaginary feels bigger and more expansive. The added sounds of organs, synths, and even a string octet make it feel darker, thicker, almost palpable. This is exemplified in the album’s title track, which uses these more exploratory instrumental choices to create an ethereal, expansive musical landscape. “Pretty,” and “Stale Device,” stand out as holdovers from their Powerplant sound, contrasting well with songs such as “Hire” and “All Blacked Out,” which are heavily reminiscent of XO-era Elliott Smith.
Since the band’s previous LP release of Powerplant, one member of the duo, Cleo Tucker, has come out as trans, taking testosterone that has lowered their voice nearly a full octave. This adds an entirely new dimension to the band’s sonic landscape, adding a dynamic friction and aural diversity where the duo’s voices were nearly indistinguishable on previous releases. Tucker seems to have adjusted effortlessly to their new tenor vocal range, finding and carving out their own sound that in many ways defines the album. Their parts feel more confident and more defined.
Girlpool has always been a unique band with a unique sound. This has always served as one of their strong suits. They have long ago proven to the world that they have no trouble standing out among the crowd and unapologetically letting the world know who they are, sonically or thematically. On this new album, however, Girlpool seems to have a broader, more confident and defined sense of who exactly they are. If individuality is any deciding factor on how long art is remembered, Girlpool have already reserved themselves a spot in the annals of musical history.