Contemporary indie bands tend to follow a well-worn formula based on monotonic, parched vocals delivering angsty lyrics over a simple, distorted guitar. Fans and critics likely expected little else from Girlpool’s newest release, What Chaos is Imaginary. The band fits all of the criteria—two teens from L.A. who got their start with a collection of compositionally-bare angst ballads released on Bandcamp in 2014. The album meets expectations, but the sum of all of its ordinary alt-rock parts leaves listeners with an unexpected feeling: Not angst or a topical sadness but, rather, the feeling of returning to your childhood bedroom after a decade.
After over four years of touring and producing, What Chaos is Imaginary demonstrates the band’s maturity. The album is meticulously arranged: Tracks like “Chemical Freeze” and “Where You Sink” expand and unravel elements unfamiliar to previous Girlpool releases. The drum sequences and glimmering synth tones in these songs build to a surprising breadth of tones and textures. These choices culminate in a sound that is both technically and emotionally elegant. While still holding true to their emotional explorations of what it means to be a young, introspective, growing person, the developments in their sound leave listeners both fearing and marvelling at life’s inherent transience. Every song in the album conjured up a memory from a quiet suburban adolescence.
The album is unadventurous in its sound and style—a negligible flaw considering the growth and maturity it represents. It is a classic coming of age story, and, for a theme so universal, there is no need for experimental or shocking composition. Girlpool has come to do what they know best and are earnestly trying to build upon it. Lyrics like “Dressed up all depressed / in my Sunday best” in “Lucky Joke” provide the same emotional candour that resonates in earlier works. Equal parts self-critical and reflective, the title track, “What Chaos is Imaginary”, lifts listeners out of the confines of a straightforward songwriting into an ethereal, dreamlike introspection with its pounding drums and cinematic violin, like a gloomier Kate Bush. Despite stylistic nuances, all 14 tracks come together as bedroom jams; exploring the interior, What Chaos is Imaginary provides a meditative listening experience.