Review: A Grave With No Name - "Whirlpool"

A Grave With No Name - Whirlpool
(Lefse 2013)
"Swirling, mid-tempo melancholy"

I may be an outspoken lo-fi purist, but I can't help but love A Grave With No Name's latest LP, the surprisingly polished final entry in a trilogy of albums. His past two full-length ventures, Lower and Mountain Debris, were not only accented by a distinct brand of icy crunch; they were defined by it. Whirlpool is a surprisingly radical departure from A Grave With No Name's signature sound quality. It's slick, and well-executed, but by no means showy. Although I admit some of the moving intimacy found on albums one and two is missing, a new feeling pervades this recording. Alex Shields (frontman of the project) doesn't approach Whirlpool with the nervous vibe I've grown so accustomed to. It's replaced by a refreshing sense of self-confidence. Shields' finally sounds as if in control of his music rather than being overwhelmed by his own creation. 

On Whirlpool, Shields perfectly captures the cozy autumn mood nestled in Smashing Pumpkins' more placid moments. The track "'73" for example, exudes the same swirling, mid-tempo melancholy as the similarly titled Pumpkins track "1979". Alex Shields' vocals even sound a lot like Billy Corgan's, only less coarse. "Streams" is another favorite of mine, with chiming guitars, husky french horn and plodding bass stacked upon the bass of a solid acoustic ballad. As much as I enjoyed the bare-bones version of the song released as a single in 2011, the lush arrangement added on the Whirlpool version makes "Streams" even more haunting. The closing track, "Balloons", acts as a throwback of sorts, a ghostly piano ballad with a Satie-esque sense of spaciousness. Whirlpool is one of the most exciting albums of 2013, and may very well be a breakthrough for A Grave With No Name. Read an interview with Shields about the new LP here and listen to "Dig Me Out" featuring Alanna McArdle of Evans the Death and Ides.