Just a pipe dream? SF’s Whirr gets 'Around'

Whirr-ing around.

In the cyclical nature of sonic trends, shoegaze has risen from the grave and out of obscurity again. With old guard bands such as My Bloody Valentine and Mazzy Star releasing new material, acts from this generation are following in their footsteps, reviving what was once out of vogue.

And in the midst of this comes Whirr, a dichotomy of sound, layered and simplistic at the same time, wrapped up in a tight package. Formed in San Francisco in 2011, through what guitarist and founding member Nick Bassett describes as basic boredom, the six-piece outfit decries its shoegaze leanings, searching for a heavier sound.

Bassett cites Whirr’s influences as former SST power trio Dinosaur Jr. and European shoegaze band Nightblooms. Despite these influences, critics have been quick to point out that the band also sounds like My Bloody Valentine. Slowdive, and the like. And why not? Much like those forefathers of sound, Whirr has heavy instrumentals that overpower dreamy female vocals. It’s an easy comparison, but also accurate.

And it’s easy to tell that Bassett isn’t exactly thrilled about that comparison. In response, he takes the path of resistance to these accusations.

“We’re louder than them, and I don’t think we really sound like them,” says Bassett.

But the statement that Whirr is louder than MBV is entirely disputable. Known for being the “loudest band on earth” to some, MBV was accused of being criminally negligent by the press while touring to promote Loveless in 1991.

Admittedly, Whirr is also very loud live -- and the band has met opposition from venues and crowd goers alike throughout the course of its month-long tour with doom metal band Lycus and shoegaze group Nothing.

“The worst location we played was in Midland, Texas,” says Bassett. “They were blocking their ears and stuff because they thought we were too loud -- they probably didn’t get it. Also Washington DC [was bad] because the sound guy wouldn’t let us play loud.”

Formerly of San Francisco black metal band, Deafheaven, Basset is no stranger to playing deafening music. And it seems that references and comparisons to Slowdive are something that have followed Bassett throughout his career as a musician -- Deafheaven’s band name came as an homage to the English band.

But in the pursuit of maximum volume, some locations along the way have met Whirr’s arduous expectations. According to Bassett, Tampa, Fla. was the best stop on the road.

Why? “Because we were really loud and got a lot of money,” he says, concisely.

Aside from getting the chance to make lots of noise and get paid, Whirr has had a productive year with the release of a new EP this summer, which was the followup to last year’s LP Pipe Dreams (Tee Pee, 2012). 

Pipe Dreams
is an album of many layers, tossing together slow and kicky uptempo tunes. Some of the guitar riffs on the album, found in tracks like “Toss,” are downright pop-punk. But the band’s newest EP, Around (Grave Face), released in July, goes for a decidedly different temperament. There’s a slowed down pace.

also steps away from Pipe Dreams with its far longer tracks (not one under five minutes) though maintains a heavy, funeral dirge-like sound.

“These songs sound better when we play them live,” Bassett says.

If you’re interested in seeing if Bassett’s claim is accurate (or you just want to damage your hearing, if only momentarily) you can see Whirr at Bottom of the Hill this week. Oh, and bring earplugs just in case. Things might get loud.

With Nothing, Lycus
Wed/28, 9pm, $10
Bottom of the Hill
1233 17th Street, SF
(415) 626-4455