Chapterhouse

Whirlpool (Dedicated '91) Rating: A-
The shoegazer genre was similar to grunge in that it was a genuinely vital, seemingly new sound in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, but both genres became “played out” by the mid-90s, watered down by inferior copycat bands and over saturation as listeners moved on to new things. The genre was so named because most of said bands allegedly lacked charisma live, looking at their feet where their effects pedals were and having minimal interaction with the audience. But if they were less than ideal live, the shoegazer scene still produced some great records. Actually, I’ve always felt that “dreampop” was a more accurate moniker than "shoegazer"; and I use both terms interchangeably, but regardless, the debut album by Chapterhouse was one of the finest shoegazer/dreampop albums around, though this little known Reading, U.K. band (whereas grunge was primarily an American phenomenon, most shoegazer bands resided in the U.K.) only made one more supposedly less successful follow up (Blood Music, which I haven't heard) before breaking up. “Breather” (another shoegazer trademark seemed to be short song titles) begins the album with big drums that propel a propulsive rhythm, a jangly layered guitar melody, and of course dreamy vocals that mostly serve as another instrument rather than to elucidate concrete, readily identifiable lyrics. “Pearl” is more of the same but even better; the “satisfy my soul” rip into those breathy “woo hoos” is flat-out brilliant, and “Autosleeper” has the soft-to-loud dynamics that so defined alternative rock at the time (yet the results are still satisfying, even though you can see the punch line coming from a mile away). “Treasure” is an absolute masterpiece on which the unforgettable, glorious “glide guitar” truly is thrilling; any guitar player that gets locked into a guitar groove this good just once should be able to die a happy man. Well, that’s overstating the case and I don’t play guitar, but this song sure makes me break out my air guitar, and I like the dreamy “I’m in heaven” vocal hook as well. Anyway, nothing on the rest of the album matches that one, but after the slightly more straightforward rock ‘n’ roll of “Falling Down,” “April” offers yet another prototypical shoegazer track, with a massive wall of sound and more dreamy vocals. Rounding out the track list, “Guilt” is more on the moody side, while “If You Want Me” is a short, sunny pop showcase (even if the vocals are again buried), and “Something More” ends the album with a dreamily psychedelic track on which the (again surprisingly) poppy vocals are actually audible. All in all, the aptly titled Whirlpool provides pure aural enjoyment throughout, and though it’s likely you won’t remember too many individual songs or a single lyric, the albums sumptuously pretty and blaringly loud melodies invariably hit the right pleasure points throughout. It's a pity that albums like this and the shoegazer genre as a whole is so overshadowed by a single album (My Bloody Valentine’s admittedly brilliant Loveless), as this rarely remembered jewel still sounds great and it deserves to be rediscovered.

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