An ominous wall of guitar fuzz and broody feedback slowly emerges from silence on the opening song of “Pipe Dreams,” the debut album by the Oakland-based shoegaze sextet Whirr. Released earlier this year on Tee Pee Records, some sort of unnameable, inescapable dread crawls across the album, plunging the listener into a clamant but melodic world of fantastic melancholia.
On “Junebouvier,” buried deep beneath the joyous, overblown powerchords and manic drum bashing, vocalists Alexandra Morte and Loren Rivera contemplate death. “Death awaits outside,” they softly sing, safely hidden indoors, far away from a murderous June sun. “The weather reminds me solace can't be found."
This overwhelming fear of death, or whatever it is, leads to insomnia on “Toss.” “Sleep leave me behind, because when it's morning, I will forget you,” sing Morte and Rivera. But when the morning comes, the impending nothingness doesn't subside; it returns in the form of haunted memories on “Flashback,” where past fears make looking toward the future impossible.
Perhaps these terror-drenched moods should be expected from a band that played together for the first time on Halloween night. But, hesitant to reveal the secrets of Whirr's dreary worldview, guitarist Nick Bassett (a former member of the black metal band Deafheaven) refuses to embellish in any sort of founding myth.
“The only reason it was Halloween was that it just happened to be the first time we could all practice,” says Bassett. “It was funny because we were wearing costumes so we could go to Halloween parties afterward. I was a ghost with just a sheet on. Eddie (Salgado, the bassist) was a doctor, Sergio (Miranda, the drummer) was a skeleton, and Loren was dressed up as Christopher Walken.”
That was in 2009, before Morte and guitarist Joseph Bautista joined Whirr. “We were all good friends, and really into shoegaze and '90s alternative bands like My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive,” says Bassett. “We're all incredibly shy and introverted, and maybe this comes across in the music. We like the idea of hiding behind the sound -- pushing the vocals into the background -- and we enjoy the dreamy, loud, sonic qualities of it. You can just wander into it while you're listening; you can kind of doze off, and focus on other things.”
Whirr's first release was a seven-song EP titled “Distressor.” On the standout songs “Ghost” and “Meaningless,” the vocals are entombed even deeper beneath a disorienting haze of reverb and feedback than they are on “Pipe Dreams.” The new album, as Bassett describes it, is “much more upbeat. Instead of atmospheric, droning songs, 'Pipe Dreams' is a lot more poppy and catchy.”
“The only reason it was Halloween was that it just happened to be the first time we could all practice... we were wearing costumes so we could go to Halloween parties afterward."
Don't get the wrong idea: Whirr's upcoming albums will not be sunnier, and they definitely won't be more optimistic. The band's planning to release a new EP this winter, as well as split albums with the British dream-pop band Monster Movie and Portland's Anne, and Bassett promises a departure from “Pipe Dreams.”
“The new songs are a bit sadder and slower,” he says. “There's a darker, cloudier production. Rather than catchy hooks, it's just generally more depressive. I don't know why we write such sad songs. None of us know. I'm not sure any of us are really sad. We're not aiming to be a dreadful bummer, that's just what happens when we write music.”
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