James Chapman (Maps) Talks Whirr’s Around

I like records that take me on some kind of journey, music that makes me forget about everything else and that I can lose myself in. Around...

I like records that take me on some kind of journey, music that makes me forget about everything else and that I can lose myself in. Around, the new EP by Whirr, is one of those records.

I knew little about Whirr before listening, but it turns out to be the Bay Area-based side project of former Deafheaven touring guitarist Nick Bassett, with several other musicians. I’ve heard some of Deafheaven’s music, and I guess it could best be described as heavy rock — some might even call it metal. I like the fact that Whirr takes a different path. I like hearing musicians explore different styles of music and try new things. It’s an important part of finding your true sound. It seems like Nick Bassett is following his heart with Whirr, and that comes across here.

I was totally captivated from the opening of the first track “Drain” — it’s quiet, reverb-drenched guitar, like a slowed-down Galaxie 500, or even reminiscent of the more atmospheric moments of early Godspeed You! Black Emperor. But that’s just the calm before the storm; it soon turns into  something wildly more bombastic — huge, distorted guitars kick in, and we’re off!

There’s something about the way Around was recorded that at once sounds familiar, in a comforting way, but also fresh and interesting. The distortion is warm, rather than brutal, which is no mean feat to pull off. The female vocals are buried deep within the mix — the delivery is soft, almost whispered, which draws me in, rather than making me feel distant from the music. And the drums sound like they could have been recorded in a stadium-capacity venue somewhere. They’re huge.

Straight from its opening chords, “Swoon” is altogether more heavy, and yet the different guitars jangling throughout add an uplifting feeling too. Mixing heavily effected distortion with cleaner, reverb-drenched guitars adds a real texture, and the main guitar riff swirls in the same echoing, cavernous sound that Low produced in their early days.

The third track, “Keep,” is a much quieter affair, bringing back memories of Mogwai or very early My Bloody Valentine. Those bands are only reference points though — Whirr have put their own original stamp throughout the whole record and it sounds beautiful. Feedback fades slowly and seamlessly into the final track, as if the band are too lost in the music to stop and take a break. That last song, the title track “Around,” is a hypnotic and repetitive, huge on atmosphere and a great way to close the record. It fades into the distance very slowly and gradually, and makes you want to follow the music as it drifts away to another place.

Even though the vocals are mixed way down, it never occurred to me that I couldn’t actually make out the lyrics. It’s an interesting point, actually, because it didn’t diminish my appreciation of Whirr’s music at all — in fact, just the opposite. It’s as if the way the vocals are delivered, not the words, bears the essence of their meaning. There are moments when I think I hear the words, but I might be wrong — and does it even matter? Lyrics are just one aspect of the musical experience and can be meaningful before being intellectually understood — like listening to a poem in a foreign language, it can be emotional even if you don’t know what the words mean. And Whirr convey enough feeling and substance in their songs for the clarity of the words not to matter.

As I said, I’m always looking for music to take me on a journey, something I can immerse myself in completely and disappear into a different world. Around did that for me. I enjoy listening to bands like this for the whole experience of the sonics. And this album is best listened to on headphones late at night. Best of all, though, it is a warm and irresistible collection of songs.

James Chapman, aka Maps, lives in Northampton, England. He was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize for his 2007 debut album We Can Create. You can follow him on Twitter here.