Shoegaze hasn’t been a big selling point as a genre tag for a while now, despite the artistry generally involved and associated with it. In 2011, it was given a little push by bands looking to embellish their sound who used it as a reference point or guide. Post-rock started to get less pristine and more hazy. All of this resulted in a new slew of shoegaze revival bands emerging. Very few have accomplished what Whirr has with Pipe Dreams. Pipe Dreams is an original work of art that’s well-informed by the classic touch-points yet exists within the confines of its own vision, a vision that lends itself to both Whirr’s credibility as a band and their unique vision.
The albums start with drones falling in and out of opening track “Reverse”, and the effect is instantly gripping. A lot of times building such a quick crescendo only to cut out at the peak of its momentum can seem like a tired trick, but it’s rarely used as an opening device and it’s certainly difficult to remember a time when it was orchestrated so well. Soft vocals float in and out after the crescendo cuts away and the drone is left in lull before every instrument takes a stranglehold on the senses, all kicking in at once to deliver a powerful aural assault. There’s a certain sense of foreboding that lies in the melodies of both instruments and vocals and it all adds up to a very promising start.
“Junebouvier” continues on the premise of that promise by delivering a much poppier take on the groundwork that they laid with “Reverse”. There’s still a small sense of foreboding but there’s an uptick in tempo and the collective members of Whirr once again sound like they’re pummeling their instruments, except this time it’s with added vigor instead of relative apathy. It’s still pure brute force and there’s still almost no sheen to the haze they’re conjuring, but it works as both pop and rock. When “Junebouvier” ends, the band offers no reprieve before a distorted bass comes tearing in to introduce album highlight “Bogus”, which is essentially “Junebouvier” with more texture, expanded structure, more melody, and an even quicker tempo. It’s also the point where Pipe Dreams comes closest to resembling classics, to great effect. However, when the song dies out and lets haze wash through its remaining minute and a half, it doesn’t bring Loveless to mind so much as Zen Arcade which is a left-field (but entirely welcome) influence for a shoegaze band to have.
“Flashback” propels things even further and pushes Pipe Dreams to new heights. The tempo is scaled back a little but Whirr sounds more impassioned here, particularly on the chorus, than they do anywhere else on Pipe Dreams. When the riff adorns the last section of the song its grandeur is thrilling and “Flashback” only gets elevated further. It’s one of the most triumphant moments on an album that’s full of almost nothing but.
The next pair of songs, intriguingly enough, are the only two songs on Pipe Dreams boasting titles longer than one word. First, there’s the haunting acoustic track “Formulas and Frequencies” that utilizes a piano in stunning fashion and really puts a distinguishing mark on the album’s willingness to take unexpected directions in experimentation. Over the course of its near six minute run-time, the intrigue never wanes and only pulls the listener deeper into the song. It’s as exciting as it is terrifying, conjuring a feeling that borders on voyeurism. The latter long-title track, “Home Is Where My Head Is”, is a surreal two minute blast that rips the atmosphere set by “Formulas and Frequencies” into a million tiny shreds. It’s a bold take-no-prisoners barroom brawl that injects a healthy dose of adrenaline back into Pipe Dreams, and the solo that caps it off is pure ecstasy.
Pipe Dreams could have easily gotten stale around the last few songs but Whirr pulls enough tricks out of their sleeves to make sure that doesn’t happen. “Home Is Where My Head Is” is followed by another short-blast album highlight in “Toss” with its stop/start break rhythms and floor tom savagery. “Hide” builds the momentum even further while once again slowing the tempo down. However, to say this offers listeners a reprieve would be inaccurate, as the band still tears into the song for all its worth and never lets up.
The album closes out with “Wait” and “Reverie”, two of Pipe Dream‘s most glacially paced and atmospheric songs. As always happens with the best moments of the ambient-heavy portions of shoegaze or shoegaze-inspired albums, they’re cinematic pieces imbued with an undeniable sense of mystery. Those feelings are never not present throughout these two songs and they both act in tandem together as a fitting end-cap to an album that both batters and entrances the listener. There’s big things happening for Whirr, we should just be glad they’re letting us hear them.