What Chaos is Imaginary marks the second album cycle in a row where girlpool released a single in streamlined pop form, that doesn’t really describe the rest of the album that followed. Having started as this strange, otherworldly combination of sounds and poetry, the group’s proper rock band phase, if nothing else, has retained their aversion to simple understanding.
“It Gets More Blue” is a perfect song that no one else could’ve possibly written, but also anyone who cares for rock can likely get into. There’s the slow starting verse, with the perfect lyric to kick off the raucous guitar-driven chorus: “the nihilist tells you that nothing is true/I said I faked global warming to get through to you.” Drawn out syllables at the end let the guitars truly shine and the band uses a similar trick in the bridge, almost sounding like the tune is about to wind down, before ramping up one more time.
The rest of Powerplant avoids fan service religiously however, with tunes like “123” going chorus-verse-chorus and “Soup” hitting chorus one time. Admittedly part of me feels like the group should embrace the conservative-adjacent rock sound in their lyrics and forms and give us 10 perfect bangers that sound and flow exactly like “Hire.” Of course they’re never going to do that, but in spite of this, Imaginary’s expanse yields the group’s current masterwork, catchy enough to service fans, but also rife with crystalline, motionless pools to ponder their evasive lyricism.
Similarly to Mitski, girlpool crafts insta-classic lines and phrases. “Advertise what makes you crazy/so I can second guess my focus/are you gonna hire me” has been bouncing around in my brain for a while. I’m literally job searching right now and second guessing my focus constantly so it’s hitting extra hard, but much of Girlpool’s material references relationships—you go out and ask a potential partner what makes them tick and hope it lines up with what you were about to say.
Other highlights include this expert take on pondering existence alone: “I wandered around a shapeless station/In soliloquy clouds/That nebulous dichotomy town;” a glance at childhood perception: “All the kids you thought had bigger eyes/Consumed by schemes;” or the absurdist version of taking your meds “He’ll break a pill into a thousand puzzle pieces/Drink up the spare change/Mute that golden drone.” The album’s got a bit of a sonic lull towards the backside, but lyrics like this always make it shine.
The sonics are also capable of meeting the lyrics halfway, however, as the album still generally avoids sticky hooks, but tosses in some instrumental equivalents. Between the tug and pull of the drum part on “Where You Sink;” the lilting guitar moves post-lyrics on “Hire” and “Pretty,” and the perfectly plucked guitar counterpoint on lovers anthem “All Blacked out;” there’s plenty for the audience to get addicted to.
If there’s anything about “Hire” that gives a general impression or theme of the album, it’s the angst. Even at the title “What Chaos Is Imaginary,” captures the essence of being 20 something or teenage where everything is a disaster, but you don’t know how big of a deal each part of that chaos is. The track puts this into words, capturing the feeling of being lost with in varying ways, without the guidance you may have subsisted off of in childhood: “You live halfway/In a transient home off the highway.” With a brilliantly orchestrated string quartet towards the end, girlpool prove why this was their choice of title track.
Rather than yielding 10 perfect pop songs, or their usual dose of minimalism, girlpool go for an expansive set of songs that spread out their breathtaking lines and addicting melodies, still never taking it easy, but also expertly giving us something to hold on to at every turn.