Girlpool is a rock duo from Los Angeles, California, formed by the two guitarists and bassists Avery Tucker and Harmony Tividad. What Chaos is Imaginary is their third studio album, released in 2019. The album reaches at concepts like getting older and still feeling young, going through physical changes, and learning to love the past self while still leaving it behind. The band accomplishes this with a heightened sophistication of song construction, a departure from their 2017 album Powerplant that consisted of simple yet addictive indie songs not reaching past three minutes long each.
The album is definitely guitar-heavy, epitomizing the clean-tone sound of two electric guitars being played together. Rapid strumming and distinguishable riffs fill the space of nearly every song, though their bass skills show through in isolated moments on tracks like “Pretty.” What considerably stands out about this album is Girlpool’s playing with and honoring their distinct vocals. Up until this album, every Girlpool song has been defined by the airy, high-pitched voice of Tividad, and Tucker harmonizing with a similar soprano voice. Between Powerplant and What Chaos, Avery Tucker went through a transition and began taking testosterone, resulting in his voice lowering almost an entire octave. Many of the songs on the album isolate Tucker’s deep voice, for example the first track “Lucy’s,” then “Hire” and “All Blacked Out.” In a 2020 piece for Them, Tucker recounts that Girlpool deliberately casted certain songs for his voice only to acknowledge and celebrate his transition. Many of the songs that Tucker wrote are about his transition and are vague enough to relate to anyone going through an arbitrary personal change in their life, for example in “Hire” when the song is introduced with the lyric, “Will I make the matinee/With my newest life, and be that bright time?” Tividad sings solo on many of the songs on the album as well, and when the two harmonise it’s sort of magic, marking a perfect chemistry for the present Girlpool.
Going even beyond vocals, the band’s furthered sophistication can be found in an increased breadth of instrument choices past their classic arsenal of guitar and bass, experimenting with synths, keyboards, and drum machines at times. The tenth and title track, “What Chaos is Imaginary,” has slowly become my favorite song on the album and one of my favorite songs of all time. The lyrics of the track are simple and profound, building up the verses and culminating at a short chorus while still encapsulating what it’s like to go through a personal change and simultaneously keep people close to you. They use a simple pattern on the drum machine accompanied by a dreamy-sounding keyboard sequence. Tividad’s voice takes center stage, with Tucker’s deep vocal fry harmonizing in the background, adding some vocal depth. What makes this song unique is the perfect violins that go through the song–the solo towards the end of the track is guaranteed to jerk a tear or two.
“Hoax and the Shrine” is another track that stands out, dominated by an unexpected acoustic guitar. This one is reminiscent of Tividad’s acoustic solo album Oove is Rare, released a year earlier. The song captures the idiosyncrasies of an acoustic guitar with its unavoidable twangs and mistakes, and the lyrics recount a familiar and comfortable sense of love. The track is slow and pretty, offering a quiet space in the album before the jolt of noise that is “Swamp and Bay,” which comes directly after.
Overall, What Chaos is Imaginary, with its particular lyricality and investigations into transitions and dualities, marks an exponential increase in the experience of the band—I’d recommend listening to Powerplant first before this album. The two musicians are breaking every boundary in regards to what it means to be an indie-rock punk outfit.