The tempestuous sounds of Oakland rock quintet Whirr walk a bold line between menace and comfort. Like being wrapped in layers of heavy blanket, their music can be sweltering and claustrophobic or comfortably warm.
They pull this off by producing a big onslaught of sound. On their debut LP Pipe Dreams, Whirr’s three heavily amplified guitarists play over each other, cloaking their melodies in thick distortion. Within the guitars’ aggressively brutal textures are quietly caressing vocals that seem contrastingly innocent and gentle. Tracks “Flashback” and “Formulas and Frequencies” move at a leisurely pace with sweet, sunbathed melodies. “Bogus” and “Home is where my head is” accelerate and explode.
The effect of this dual nature can be polarizing. The album could provide the background music for a relaxing drive on a cloudy day or be the soundtrack for an anxiety attack. It’s too raucous to be denoted as typical shoegaze and too lush and wistful to be punk. Live, Whirr’s volume is almost ear shattering, but even then its noisy envelopment is captivating.
Now, after months of touring and songwriting post Pipe Dreams and 2013’s Around EP, Whirr is set to release its second album Sway on September 23, 2014. Luckily, fans can catch the band’s record release show at the Rickshaw Stop on August 30 and get a live preview. Tickets are $10 in advance or $12 at the door.
Whirr’s already shared two tracks online from the upcoming album. The singles, “Mumble” and “Heavy,” show that the band hasn’t changed its sound, but has grown more focused and streamlined in delivery.
Unlike the somewhat jarring guitar textures of Pipe Dreams, these two songs display a more coordinated interplay of guitar work with cleaner production. The blurriness that once shrouded the melodies has subsided, without sacrificing the lustrous reverb the band is known for. The lead guitar lines on “Mumble” stay clear and distinct, even when the song erupts in fuzz 2/3 of the way through. The appropriately titled “Heavy” begins with a dismal, sludgy crawl and then expands and builds with tuneful intensity. Both tracks have an ebb and flow of conflicting elements — of beauty and ugliness, aggression and restraint — that make them captivating.
I spoke to guitarist Nick Bassett briefly about Whirr’s origin, their general sound, and the new album. Judging from Bassett’s confidence, we should expect it to be a good one.
How did Whirr get together?
We’ve all been friends since after high school. We were all into punk and skating and stuff like that and we just hung out, decided to start a band.
How would you characterize Whirr’s sound? What bands or artists do you draw inspiration from?
I don’t know, there’s not any particular band, I think. I don’t know any — honestly there are so many different bands; it’s not just pigeonholed into My Bloody Valentine or something like that. There are all kinds; we all listen to different stuff. We all listen to [laughs] ZZ top, R&B, soul, all kinds of punk and hardcore.
How has Whirr’s sound changed over the years?
I guess it’s changed but it’s not intentional, it just happened. We just keep writing songs and they keep going however they’re going to go. We didn’t set out to change our sound on our new record or anything like that
What was the writing process like for Sway? Was it any different from Pipe Dreams? If so, how?
It was different since I was in Philadelphia. so I wasn’t around for all of it. We weren’t together really. But other than that we all just wrote songs, came together and recorded them. It wasn’t too different.
How do you feel about the completed product? Does it live up to your expectations?
Yes, I think it’s perfect.
How does this record differ from your previous releases?
Well, every record we do is better than the last one and this one is following that same stairway up to the top.
What is your favorite venue to play in the Bay Area?
Probably The Ol’ Dopehouse. It’s in Oakland on 14th and Wood Street.
Whirr’s record release party is on August 30, 2014 at The Rickshaw Stop in San Francisco. For more information visit rickshawstop.com.