By Steph Salo
Whirr, the masters of sass, are back in the saddle. For fans of My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, or the bands heavily influenced by their sound (Nothing, All Natural Lemon And Lime Flavors, Fleeting Joys, etc), you’re probably already familiar with the five person shoegaze band formed in 2010. You may also know that they have a Tumblr dedicated to making fun of their fans (and Pitchfork).
Their latest release, Sway, is Whirr’s sophomore album, the first being 2012’s Pipe Dreams. They hail from the San Francisco Bay Area, a slice of America that really knows their punk and hardcore. While Pipe Dreams is a spunky dream-punk journey, Whirr is doing something different this time around. This is their first release without a female singer, taking the subgenre back to its roots with this droning, beautifully melancholic LP. It’s the kind of rainy day album you need for some serious under-the-covers time.
We start off with “Press,” which is packed full of interesting gems of sound. You can pick up something new each time you listen. The first word that comes to mind when this song plays is “DANGER!” A dizzying, high pitched guitar riff comes out of the right channel. Do not adjust your headphones, this is just how Whirr does things. Twelve seconds later, it erupts. The band comes in with pounding drums, driving bass, and energetic guitar. Toward the 2:30 mark, you hear this beautiful cascading guitar, sliding around and creating this organic sweeping feeling.
“Mumble,” a gauzey, oddly comforting track with that same droning melancholic guitar, is the cornerstone of the album. There is something familiar about this song, like you could almost swear it was featured in an episode of Daria. This lovelorn first single off of the album is exactly what you want it to be: dark. The lyrics are completely unintelligible, which is pretty common in their genre. Whirr is clearly trolling us, which is kind of a shame, because the lyrics are SEXY AS HECK.
drifting down your seams
count the waves
feel your face
ask me to stay
I want you more lately
I mean. Come on.
“Dry” starts off eerily sweet and soothing, then rolls into heavy drums and a moaning bass. Fans of early AFI’s guitar sound (another East Bay Hardcore alum) will probably appreciate this. The almost foreboding growl of the backing guitar gives this a definite grunge feel, and the gentle plucking guitar that starts off and finishes the song sounds like something that could have easily come from an Echo and the Bunnymen track. There are new wave vibes in this song that are pretty tough to miss. Whirr has this way of making you get lost in their sound, and as you listen to the song you pick up on what each of the instruments are up to. It’s got a gorgeous, drowsy weight to it, but still manages to hold on to that measured beat and drive that is so key to this album.
“Clear” is completely ethereal. If Robert Smith (The Cure, but you already knew that) and Kevin Shields (My Bloody Valentine, but you probably knew that too) set their guitars up on a date and it went really well, this is what their bone-sesh would sound like. If that doesn’t make much sense, just wait until you listen to the song. This track is a breath of fresh air, lighter and more spiritual than the three preceding it.
“Heavy” is rich with a pounding bass drum and a stomping drive. The first minute and change is like a really thick, menacing march. When the vocals come in, you get a little burst of melody with that same beautiful buzzing guitar sound you’ve fallen in love with in the previous tracks. “Heavy” then rolls into these almost sing-songy lyrics which poses a really interesting juxtaposition to the overall weight of the song. There is a certain lightheartedness about this track that is pretty contradictory to its name.
“Sway” sounds like waves crashing on a pier. You can almost hear the gentle roar of the ocean underneath the ambient guitar. When the drums and vocals roll in, you get the feeling of being rocked back and forth. Dudes, I am not kidding when I say this is the world’s best nap album. (I should note that Nap Rap is a new genre Mike Duquette is going to start producing, so keep your eyes out for that goldmine.)
“Lines” is a great people pleaser. Between the melodic guitar and gentle harmony, you’ve got a solid true blue shoegaze song. It’s dreamy, with sweet romantic lyrics. Put this on a mixtape for your crush.
“Feel” is a soothing track despite its melancholic lyrics:
your words are empty
mine are not enough
show me how you feel
To me, it is the equivalent to a warm blanket or what I imagine a belly rub feels like to a Corgi. As the final track, it wraps the album neatly in a ribbon. The way it sort of swirls around is ghostly, and then its abrupt end is like an alarm clock for your senses. Wake up, the album is over.
If you need to escape from the world for about thirty-six minutes, Sway will take you on a ride that will leave you with that same feeling you get after waking up from a really solid nap. “Where am I? What just happened? What day is it?” You get totally lost in their immersive, spacey sound. It is definitely true to the genre, but has facets about it that make it a little more user-friendly. The sound is very dark, but that doesn’t stop it from being totally sexy. It’s my makeout album of the year. It is “I-hope-I-don’t-get-my-tongue-ring-stuck-in-your-lip-ring” music.
Sway is out now on Graveface Records. You can find Whirr on Tumblr, Twitter, or Graveface’s site. If you’re into shoegaze, it’s a must. If you aren’t typically into shoegaze, this LP is good enough to potentially change your mind. Pick up the record, take it home, put it on, and touch someone’s face with your face. I can’t say for a fact that they are “good at everything,” but they’re certainly good at making an album.
Steph Salo is a millennial from the suburbs, sells soap, and has a strong dislike of Taylor Swift. You can follow her on Twitter, or into the dark.