Filled with major key melodies and scruffy distortion, Whirlpool looks back to the nineties to capture that gloriously difficult period of teenage youth. Moving into the studio for his third record, A Grave With No Name, the musical project of Alex Shields, utilizes this new found freedom to craft an intricate homage to youth, in what he says is the final part of a trilogy, alongside his previous two bedroom recorded albums, Mountain Debris and Lower. Fitting in with other recent acts like Yuck and A History of Apple Pie who recreate that early nineties alternative sound, taking in dream pop, grunge and lo-fi in equal measure, A Grave With No Name succeed in managing this difficult genre balancing act whilst never sounding derivative of a single style.
Whirlpool opens with feedback and ambient guitars on the first track (Higher), dreamily pulling you into it's world. Despite lasting less than a minute it has been carefully constructed, filled with subtle sounds that might pass you by on first listen, with a similar attention to small details on display throughout the record. Second track Aurora really kicks the album of with big cavernous drums and and simple upbeat bass line. It all sounds very Jesus & Mary Chain, before soft and somewhat detached female vocals enter alongside the guitars covered in chorus and reverb.
From the slacker vibes of the ramshackle Bored Again to the hazy dream pop of '73, A Grave With No Name look at the past like thinking back on blurry drug addled memories with an unfocused warmth. Shields seems to have relished his time in the studio, using trickery like the playful turning of a radio dial in the charming 90's grunge pop track Origami whilst Dig Me Out sounds like one of Dinosaur Jr.'s more catchy moments or an early Smashing Pumpkins track from when their sound was still rough around the edges.
Other tracks take a more subdued approach, such as the acoustic Bones, which brings in a string section, or the captivating child-like and piano-led album closer Balloons ending with the resolute line 'No more tears this year/Happy birthday'. Both feel like personal, intimate takes but lack the catchy stoner pop hooks of the more filled out tracks and the string section in Bones, whilst the arrangement is peasant enough, feels unnecessary, revealing the downsides of the freedom a studio environment brings.
Filled with the naivety, angst and hopefulness that comes with youth, the songs are sonically detailed and well put together, but at the same time have an effortless quality to them, as if the tracks have been recorded perfectly on the first take. Though it never really breaks new ground with its take on the music of the early nineties, Shields manages to capture a feeling of growing up in what now seems like a simpler time with a sense of honesty which elevates it above a lot of the other revivalists.
Originally posted on Figure8magazine.co.uk