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Music Review: Girlpool’s What Chaos Is Imaginary

What you should be listening to this week

Music Review: Girlpool’s <i>What Chaos Is Imaginary</i>

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

In an age of indie music defined by laid-back, reverb-soaked crooning, it’s easy to get lost in the deafening whirlwind of Mac Demarco and Rex Orange County wannabes. On their third album as Girlpool, Los Angeles natives Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad manage to cut through the noise, putting their own quirky spin on the indie rock sound.

Compared to the duo’s previous two albums, What Chaos Is Imaginary departs from their usual sound somewhat. The cute, jangly tunes that had defined the band up until this point have been replaced with heavier, noisier, and more experimental cuts. The album kicks off with the track “Lucy’s,” packed full of droning guitars, a punchy kick drum, and some deadpan vocal harmonies.

Tucker and Tividad share vocal duties equally across the album, playing off each other naturally. Another highlight on the album is the upbeat “Hire,” which combines some sticky guitar riffs with one of Tucker’s best performances on the album. However, perhaps the best song on the entire album is the brooding and experimental “Chemical Freeze.” The track mixes a sombre lead guitar and a glitchy electronic beat with ambient style sampling and hushed lyrics about a breakup to create a meditative masterpiece. Some other highlights in the second half of the album are the groovy and upbeat “Lucky Joke,” and the closing track “Roses,” an expansive shoegaze opus.

Overall, What Chaos Is Imaginary is a strong effort from two young artists who have potential in spades. The duo does a good job of delivering several dreamy guitar-focused tracks that are a pleasure to get lost in. What Chaos Is Imaginary primarily falls short in its length and its tendency toward uniformity. Songs like the title track and acoustic ballad “Hoax and the Shrine” could have been paired back or cut all together. For a somewhat lengthy album, What Chaos Is Imaginary sticks closely to its left-field indie rock aesthetic for most of its 45-minute runtime, making the last leg of the album a bit of a slog.

A night out with the Arctic Monkeys

@ the Arctic Monkeys – R U Mine?

A night out with the Arctic Monkeys

Going to your first alternative rock concert is a life changing experience you won’t regret. Going to an Arctic Monkeys concert, however, is an experience that cannot be put into words, or even an Instagram story.

On August 5, I went to the Arctic Monkeys’ Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino Tour at Scotiabank Arena. It was a concert that brought fans back to the band’s early days, while also combining new elements to showcase their new aesthetic.

After four very long years, the beloved English indie rock band made their awaited return to Toronto following the release of their new album.

You’ve probably heard of the British indie rock band through a mutual friend or at least recognize their AM album cover in an old blog post. I fell in love with the Arctic Monkeys as an angsty 16-year-old, after an old boyfriend introduced me to their third album, Suck it and See.

I recall replaying “Piledriver Waltz” for days and obsessing over the band on artsy Tumblr blogs. Three years later, I am still in love with the band and relive those days every time I hit ‘replay.’ Their ‘70s punk rock influences, compelling charm, and poetic lyrics seem to still resonate with indie music fans after all these years.

I stood in the second row of the arena floor in awe of the epitome of cool that was frontman, Alex Turner. At the same time, I tried my very best not to fall into the growing mosh pit as lead guitarist, Jamie Cook, played the opening riff of “505.”

The group had returned from a hiatus in 2014 after their AM tour, which followed the release of their fifth studio album of the same name. During that time, members pursued individual projects.

Alex Turner worked with the group, The Last Shadow Puppets, releasing an album in 2016, and also with the LA indie pop band, Mini Mansions, who opened the Monkeys’ Toronto concert. The group played hits from their 2015 album, The Great Pretenders, opening the concert with “Freakout!” and “Creeps,” a melancholic indie pop tune of a former romance.

 The Monkeys took the stage at roughly 9:00 pm, opening with “Four out of Five,” the sixth single in Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino. Of the songs included in the setlist, only five were taken from the band’s latest album.

While the band tried to change their music style to the likes of artists such as David Bowie and indie folk-rock artist, Father John Misty, it was a risky move. Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino received many polarising reviews from fans, commenting on the band’s experimentation of lounge and psychedelic pop and use of ‘70s style synthesizers rather than the prominent guitar riffs, a staple to the band’s unique sound and image.

Much of the songs in the tour’s setlist were older fan-favourites from albums including AM (2013), Favourite Worst Nightmare (2007), Humbug (2009), and Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (2006).

The hardcore guitar riffs of songs such as “Brianstorm” and “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” combined with the flashing lights and fog made for a great performance reminiscent of the band’s earlier days as an alternative rock band in the mid 2000’s.

Turner sported a new buzzed cut, saying goodbye to his signature coiff. Alternating between lead guitar and keyboard, Turner’s stage presence added to the band’s ‘cool factor’ and edgy aesthetic.

After 10 minutes of the concert’s supposed end, the Monkeys returned to the stage for an encore performance following the audience’s never-ending cheers. The group performed “Star Treatment”, “Snap out of it,” and finished with “R U Mine?”, an alternative rock-pop song of unrequited love and obscurity in a budding relationship.

After a packed house and a ‘lovely’ subway ride home, I’d like to say I learned to look good on the dance floor, without falling into the drunken mess that is the mosh pit. The Arctic Monkeys proved to be a unique experience and the ultracool, indie vibe of their concerts are indescribable in any way.

From Tony Hawk to punk rock: the story of PUP

The Toronto-based band discusses the link between their music and video games

From Tony Hawk to punk rock: the story of PUP

“I think the official story is that it’s the urinal,” drummer Zack Mykula tells me. “We’ll say it’s the urinal.”  Like the Joker from The Dark Knight, PUP believes in a choose-your-own origin story. Today, it seems, Toronto’s punk rock quartet found their name in graffiti above a urinal at Sneaky Dee’s.

What’s less debatable, however, is the acclaim PUP has enjoyed since breaking out in 2013. While recording, releasing, and touring their self-titled debut record, what began as a group of friends jamming evolved into a well-oiled, Juno-nominated punk rock machine. After two long years on the road, the group is gearing up to release their hotly anticipated sophomore LP, The Dream is Over, later this year.

In the band’s basement jam space, we talk songwriting, broadening genres, and the video games that inspired the music video for their latest single, “DVP.”

“The snotty little brothers”

Striking a balance between pop hooks and unabashedly heavy guitars and drums, PUP have found themselves welcomed by two very different music audiences.

“There’s now a tradition kind of introduced by Alexisonfire where heavier music is becoming a little more accepted. So I can’t say we’re blazing any trails or whatever,” Mykula explains. “But yeah, just by virtue of what we listen to and how we write, it just happened that we write pop music that’s heavy.”

“It’s been interesting though,” adds lead vocalist and guitarist Stefan Babcock. “Because of that sound we’ve been able to open for such a wide variety of bands.” Babcock recounts a 2013 tour opening for Vancouver based group The Zolas and Toronto’s Hollerado, both lighter-sounding acts, that was followed immediately by a series of shows with the hardcore band, Cancer Bats.

“The demographic is just the exact opposite, and somehow we found a way to fit in with both of those tours,” Babcock says. “On the Hollerado/Zolas tour we were like the crazy heavy badass punks, and then we went on this Cancer Bats tour and we were like the snotty little brothers, you know?” 

The most recent single of their upcoming record is an example of the group’s blend of hardcore and melodic sound. Falsetto “oohs” rest atop relentless drumming in “DVP,” while Babcock shouts, “She says that I drink too much, I fucked up and she hates my guts.” 

The music video, dreamt up and directed by filmmaker Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux, blends the band’s feverish sound with the fast-paced, flashy video games the guys grew up playing in the mid-nineties. 

“We listen to Tony Hawk soundtracks”

Noting other Canadian acts, like Bossie and BADBADNOTGOOD, that often channel the sounds of old 8-bit video games, I ask the band if the games ever inspired their music. “It definitely had an impact on me,” Mykula says. “We were in a band that covered some Mega Man songs,” bassist Nestor Chumak chimes in. I profess my love of Mega Man 2’s soundtrack, but am quickly reminded by Mykula that Mega Man 7 and X are simply where it’s at. “Mega Man X, the composition is insane, and then Super Metroid, the composition is insane.”

PUP has clearly earned gaming chops.  “I think the thing about a lot of that music too is Nintendo had the kind of big budget to hire someone who was a composer,” guitarist Steve Sladkowski suggests. “All of that music is really a lot more complex than I think people would realize just given the medium and the format.” The band also points to the Tony Hawk Pro Skater games as seminal crash courses on punk music in their youth. “That’s what we do when we decide to do a new cover. We listen to Tony Hawk soundtracks.”

PUP’s LP was released via Royal Mountain Records, a label founded by members of Hollerado that now feature talent like Alvvays and PKEW PKEW PKEW, among others. Babcock describes the ever-growing label as a DIY kind of label. “It’s really like a group of friends who just kind of help each other, and it’s kind of cool to be a part of that.”

Although some artists write tracks for their sophomore records while touring, PUP’s style of songwriting simply doesn’t allow for that luxury.

“Because of the nature of how we write as a band, which is really the four of us in a room putting the songs together, you can’t do that on the road. It’s literally impossible,” Babcock says.”The majority of the songs we wrote for the record we did kind of in short spurts whenever we were home. We’d be home for a month and spend five days a week writing,” adds Sladkowski. “It was a very tough job in a lot of ways, which was cool because that’s kind of what we all wanted in a way, for this to really be the full time thing.” 

“There was kind of this fear at the beginning of, ‘if we’re on the road this much, how are we ever going to complete a record?'” Babcock explains. “But the thing that I found pretty cool is that you’re on the road and you’re just kind of playing shows every night and not really doing much else and not writing, but there’s this whole kind of creative buildup that happens in your subsconscious… and when you have a moment to come home and sit back and regroup, all of that creativity that’s been building up just kind of vomits out of you really fast.”

“The kind of band we are and the kind of band we want to be”

While staying true to the sort of sounds that initially attracted their fans, The Dream is Over won’t be a cut and paste of the 2013 LP. “It’s generally heavier than the last record. We just kind of have a much clearer understanding of the kind of band we are and the kind of band we want to be, whereas the previous record we were kind of figuring out what our sound was going to be.”

PUP’s self-titled debut album sought to channel the sound and sensation of their live show; feedback and all, the record conveys the rawness of a distortion-heavy rock show. With album two, they hope to take that even further. 

“I think we accomplished what we were going for,” Babcock says. “The question is just whether people are going to connect with it or not.”