Anemone Captures the Good Parts of the 60s on “Beat My Distance”

Every once in awhile, I come across an album that almost feels algorithmically generated to appeal to me. Anemone’s Beat My Distance combines krautrock, French pop, breezy psychedelia, and pretty much every other style of music I enjoy into a very pleasant package. It’s a little hard to tell if it’s actually “good” or if it just panders to me, but these days I don’t see much reason to draw a distinction. If I want to listen to it, it’s probably great.

The twangy guitars and bright synth parts, along with Chloe Soldevila’s airy vocals, make Beat My Distance sound like that idyllic version of the 60s that people have built up in their mind, where everyone walked around outside on sunny days and handed out flowers to each other while definitely not being racist. The overall focus on good vibes and lack of any rough edges can sometimes lead to the album feeling a bit naïve and absent of personality. These are flaws that I find easy to look past when the songs are this enjoyable to listen to, and this album provides a nice escape from the real world and its issues.

“Sunshine (Back to the Start”) is the clear highlight here; its bouncy rhythms, instrumental outro, and simple lyrics all add up to one of the more addictive songs of the year so far. Its template is followed by a lot of the songs on this album, which is all about mining familiar sounds and lyrical themes, creating a sense of nostalgia in the music. This could easily backfire (and many listeners might be turned off by the lack of originality), but Soldevila’s lack of cynicism and knowledge of exactly what her music is help me give this a high grade, even if she might have peeked at a neighbor’s paper a couple of times.

“What Chaos is Imaginary” Shows a Band in Flux

In one of my recent posts, I lamented the way really young artists are disproportionately hyped in the music industry due to novelty. That doesn’t mean I don’t listen to any of them, and one of my favorites in the past few years has been Girlpool, who started out making amateurish, heartfelt songs that were reminiscent of The Shaggs on Before the World Was Big, then evolved into a full-fledged indie rock band on 2017’s Powerplant. They overhauled their sound while maintaining the band’s biggest strength: the genuine connection between Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad, who sang in interlocked harmonies and conveyed authentic, youthful feelings instead of trying to sound older than they are. It made me feel like I was hearing the band grow up and change on every song.

That theme continues on their new album, What Chaos is Imaginary, but in a way that is much more dramatic than I would have expected. Tucker came out as transgender last year and started taking testosterone, which lowered their singing voice. It’s a courageous decision that is way more important than music, and it feels like trivializing it to analyze how it impacts the band. But they did put out a new album with Tucker’s voice on it, and it’s impossible to ignore how it has fundamentally changed the band’s aesthetic — those lockstep feminine harmonies are gone, which is what gave Girlpool their distinct style that reminded me of a musical version of nursery rhymes or “Little Red Riding Hood.”

Not to be too clinical about it, but all of this makes What Chaos is Imaginary fascinating to listen to. It’s not just hearing a band evolve like all of them do from album to album; it’s a band that has lost one instrument and replaced it with a new one. And parts of this album reflect what must have been the difficulty of figuring that out — I think it runs a little too long at 14 songs and 45 minutes and it sounds like they’re trying many different types of songs without a clear idea of what the band should be now, especially compared to the focused and confident sound of Powerplant.

While Tucker and Tividad always sang simultaneously before this, here they settle into more of a traditional lead singer/backing singer dynamic on most songs. The ones where Tucker takes lead are the biggest departures from the band’s previous material; “Lucy’s” and “Hire” show their new voice and are the most traditional indie rock songs the band has made. Tividad’s songs like “Pretty” and “Stale Device” are closer to the familiar Girlpool sound with the harmonies and mix of sweet melodies and abrasiveness. Chunks of the album feel almost too traditional to me — without the unique harmonies of previous material, a lot of this sounds like a normal indie rock band, and I feared the magic from previous recordings may have been lost.

But they find something that really works in the back half of the album. “Minute in Your Mind” and the title track are spacy ballads with keyboards that add an extra layer of psychedelia to the band. On the former track, Tucker’s voice sounds at home in the more subdued mode, and Tividad harmonizes on the back half of the song in a way that is reminiscent of old Girlpool but still inherently different. Tividad takes the lead on “What Chaos is Imaginary,” which adds strings to the mix and is the band’s most ambitious recording yet, with a larger sense of scale than anything they’ve ever done.

The way Tividad and Tucker separate from each other on the album is reminiscent of how tight friendships can fade away or change in meaning year by year. The change here is drastic but it also feels true to life, and there is a lot to like here in the songwriting (which is as soulful and endearing as it’s always been) and the band’s ability to find new sounds and push themselves on every recording. Part of me still is unfairly focusing too much on what was lost and is mourning the old Girlpool sound from Powerplant. But something has also been gained on What Chaos is Imaginary, and it is exciting to think of the future of this collaboration that surprises and evolves with every album.