Chapterhouse - Whirlpool
What is it with shoegazers and cats? The Pale Saints' The Comforts of Madness features a fine Siamese on the front and here we have Chapterhouse's Whirlpool with a curled up sleeping cat on the cover, albeit a cat which bears (to me at least) an uncanny similarity to the foetal position adopted by the dog which was entombed in ash as it was desperately trying to chew through its chain as Vesuvius erupted over Pompeii.
Cats are nice. They are warm and fuzzy. They are clever and comforting, silent and soothing. But cats can also be sinister and stealthy and to things smaller than they are, vicious and cruel. In that sense, cats are softly-warmly-soothing-dreamy-aloof but full of surprises. Much the same could be said of shoegaze. Perhaps that is why this sleeping curled up cat, with the potential for comfort and violence in equal measure, is on the cover of Chapterhouse's Whirlpool.
For a long time unobtainable, Whirlpool has now been reissued with the addition of seven additional tracks from the band's earlier EP's. In a sense, this charts the development of the band's sound from its earliest incarnation up to the release of its debut album, albeit backwards. And the addition of new sleeve notes offers a wonderful insight into how Chapterhouse developed their sound. They did not set out to jump a bandwagon started rolling by My Bloody Valentine and Ride, but they wanted to escape from the dreary, over-produced soulless MTV fayre which smothered their late-eighties musical upbringing like an assassin smothers his victim, and found their way to achieve this in the technology of special effects pedals. And the vocals? They did not adopt the dreamy, pushed-back vocal style simply to add another layer to the soundscape they were trying to create - they did it because they had little confidence in their lyrics and thought to cover up that deficiency by hiding the vocals behind other sounds.
The ability to use effects pedals in this was somewhat more liberating for Chapterhouse on this album than for their many of their contemporaries. Whereas Loveless was apparently content to be a seemingly endless succession of heavily distorted sounds to the point where it all ended up, in places, like white noise, each different hiss and drone cancelling each other out until a place of ultimate noiseless noise was attained, Chapterhouse used their technology to much better effect. And to make sure that you realised that they had other tricks up their sleeves, they adorned their sound with female vocals, chanting, pop hooks and diverse other baubles. As if to make the point that they did not wish to become involved in making a statement for the sake of it, the sleeve notes quote the band as arguing that an album full of tracks like "Satin Safe" would be too much to bear. Which is of course exactly what My Bloody Valentine did with Loveless.
The inclusion of the additional tracks from their early EPs does in one sense detract from the album insofar as it breaks up the consistency which was implicit in the original nine-track album. But that is a small gripe, and one which should not detract from the benefits which such an inclusion brings. Although the best songs on the album are drawn from the original - "Breather" and "April" - the album as a whole is full of great songs and great moments within each. Even "Satin Safe" speaks of a track which My Bloody Valentine would have loved to have made if only they hadn't had their heads stuck up their arses. I have long maintained, and will continue to do so that the album which is most frequently held out as the epitome of shoegaze is nothing of the sort. Indeed, it is the one true shoegaze album I really cannot abide. And as if to prove a point, Chapterhouse show that, even with something I have not heard before, the enjoyment is there.
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on 2011-03-10 CharlesMartel Said:
Chapterhouse have recently reformed and are doing a few gigs in the London area. Good news!