Review Summary: A necessary, must-listen, foundation piece in the renaissance of shoegaze.
There’s something alluring about Whirr; and I haven’t quite figured it out yet. Here’s a band that is known in the indie circuit for being possibly the most abrasive, angry, and straight-up insane groups in music today, and their ridiculous Facebook page is proof of that. In a recent interview, Whirr brainchild Nick Bassett was asked if he’d like to apologize for insulting fans on their Facebook or Tumblr, to which Bassett responded “Absolutely not.” In response, when asked if there’s anything he’d like to say to his ex-fans, his response was “We’re weeding out the pussies.” Later in the interview, he proclaims that the band is the loudest band in the world and his ultimate goal is to blow out every PA system they can. This is something that I can attest to; I once saw them at a little club built inside of a blown out cement factory during a musical festival and they did, in fact, blow out the PA system. Make no qualms about it, Whirr is incredibly loud.
What’s fascinating about Whirr’s opus (arguably, in fact, I’d call it one of the finest shoegaze albums of the 21st century) is how delicate it is, despite the sheer audacity of it. Pipe Dreams makes no concessions, as it floats delicately among layers and layers of speeding guitars played so loud that you can’t tell what’s feedback and what’s a guitar riff. However, this delicate intensity shows a sort of restraint that the band Whirr, and more specifically Nick Bassett, lack in real life. It’s as if Whirr is a way for Bassett to exorcise the more contemplative moments in his personality. And that’s why Pipe Dreams succeeds.
At the 2:40 mark of the track Bogus, the song drops volume to nothing more than a solemn whispery riff. Yet, beneath the slowly played guitar, the sounds of the amplifiers hum, and it sounds like a live performance. The track’s first two and a half minutes if arguably the band at its catchiest but also most frantic, and yet it easily drops to this level of solemn introspection, as the album balances intensity with that delicateness. That amplifier hum is by no means a product of poor production, as the album, for a post-loudness war release, contains very little clipping and brickwalling, despite being an album ultimately reliant on nothing but noise. Whirr wants, specifically, to pummel you with noise, then let up, and take you to a dreamy place; they want to take you the soothing yet incredibly visceral experience of seeing them live.
That’s why Pipe Dreams is ultimately so successful; it transports you to a live setting. The soundstage is so immaculately produced, you can hear the vocalist’s place on the stage. Shoegaze is all about the live experience, and this album really excels at that. Junebouvier, arguably one of the band’s greatest and most well-known songs, starts with very little but a swerving guitar riff before the song picks up into a mess of synthesizer and guitar noise, sounding a little like a wind tunnel. The ethereal sensation washes over the listener, as it bathes in the noise, in a sort of melodicism not really seen ever in the genre, except, possibly, since My Bloody Valentine in their prime. Yet, despite this dreamy sensation, it grounds itself in giving the listener the sensation of a live performance, such as when the sleepy Formulas and Frequencies is nearly inaudible as the guitars sound muffled, with the vocalist indistinguishable and held back in the mix. Once the picked guitar and piano picks enters the song, it becomes quite visceral and dreamy. This is what Whirr does so damn well though, as the next song, album stand out Home is Where My Head Is, immediately pummels you with a breakneck speed and a complete abuse of the treble knob on speaker systems, as the vocals reach into the higher spectrums and the guitar layers itself with thick, screechy feedback and a guitar solo that sounds straight out of J Mascis’ Dinosaur Jr playbook. At only 2:17 in length, it reminds me of Jack White’s description of Fell in Love With a Girl “two minutes of ultra-quick death.” The rest of the album delicately balances that soothing atmosphere with the brunt force of hitting you upside the head with a guitar amp.
As shoegaze continues to experience a second rebirth, Pipe Dreams is easily seen as, what I would argue, a foundational work in the rebirth of the genre. Now with bands like Nothing, Deafheaven, No Joy, Nights, Vestals revitalizing the genre and expanding to realms that it never reached before, (Deafheaven’s landmark black metal/shoegaze mix of Sunbather comes to mind) it can find its footing in this modern-day evolution of My Bloody Valentine in Whirr’s Pipe Dreams. Pipe Dreams is in some way derivative of Kevin Shields, but in some ways adds on immensely to what he tried to accomplish in the 90s, as Whirr makes noise into catchy melody. As great as My Bloody Valentine is, Loveless succeeded in the soundscapes it built. It’s an imperfect album in that it is nothing necessarily original, but is a near masterpiece in its precise evolution of the 90s shoegaze scene. Whirr’s Pipe Dreams succeeds in the melodicism it invokes, that delicate balance between soft and loud, and the fact that many of the songs are catchy; borderline singable. Sure, you can’t really understand the lyrics, and no, you can’t really understand the vocals. But there’s something to be said when listening to Junebouvier’s simplistic verse/chorus/verse format lathered in shoegaze trademarks, and still being able to sing along with a distinctive melody. With My Bloody Valentine’s underwhelming and unfinished M B V, Pipe Dreams asks the question if Whirr is a better current-day My Bloody Valentine than current-day My Bloody Valentine.