Chapterhouse – Whirlpool

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

I missed this album the first time around. I remember listening to the lead single – whatever that was – from the Chapterhouse album after this one when I was in college, and not caring for it. I don’t know how I eventually went back for the debut, but it must have been through reading about it, over a decade later. But better late than late. Chapterhouse sported a three-guitar attack and hailed from Reading, releasing this album in 1991 and Blood Music in 1993 and then breaking up.

What I Think of This Album

This is a [the?] great [overlooked] shoegaze album. Similar to Ride in their reliance on powerhouse drumming (and in the sort of weak lyrical content), Chapterhouse was prone to throwing in dance beats and also to simply grinding out noise like Swervedriver.

“Breather” is a monster of a track. The drums hit you from all angles, the guitars jangle, pierce, and swipe, and the vocal melody is probably the band’s best. “Pearl” adds some groove effectively, hitting a sweet spot between noise and beat, and never forgetting about the melody (which sometimes reminds me of the Stone Roses’ “Elephant Stone”). Rachel Goswell of Slowdive and Mojave 3 sings backup on this track; Chapterhouse guitarist Simon Rowe eventually joined Mojave 3.

The dreamy “Falling Down” advertises a heavy wah-wah drive, swooping vocals, powerful drumming, and a pleasing frosting-like smear to the rest of the guitars. “April” slowly assumes a majestic form, like a skyscraper taking shape behind the scaffolding, becoming a truly impressive work. “Guilt” is an intense study in malevolence, with some fine tom-rolling by drummer Ashley Bates. Jangly “If You Want Me,” with some soul-shaking drumming, and perfectly placed sheets of distortion, is sadly too short.

The remaining three tracks are at least ok, if nothing special. “Autosleeper” alternates between a methadone haze of slow moving particles and a blender of hornets. I can see the appeal, but it doesn’t do a lot for me, personally. The best thing about “Treasure” is the drumming. “Something More” seems a bit self-indulgent, which is the risk with shoegaze, after all.

The album appears to have been cobbled together from a variety of recording sessions, with numerous production and mixing credits, including Stephen Hague (New Order) and Cocteau Twin Robin Guthrie.

My reissue adds seven tracks from the Freefall, Pearl, and Sunburst EPs. Bates kicks ass once more on the desperate “Need (Somebody).” The less said about “Inside Me,” the better. “Sixteen Years” again explores loud/soft dynamics, which is a trick I get bored of quickly, but the juvenile pummeling the band delivers is undeniably satisfying. “Satin Safe” is the gem of the bonus tracks, a disorienting and debilitating fever dream of conflicting sentiments, complete with Latin chanting in the background. “Feel the Same” has a nice breakbeat and a suffocating bass part, but the melody is lacking. There is a really good song inside of “Come Heaven” that maybe should have been rescued from its surrounding elements. If you want some standard, inoffensive shoegaze, then “In My Arms” should scratch that itch.

The Best Thing About This Album

I can’t claim that “Breather” “taught me how to dream tonight,” but it is a phenomenal song. A close second place goes to drummer Bates, who makes several songs come alive.

Release Date

April, 1991 (original); June, 2006 (reissue)

The Cover Art

I am not a cat person. That said, this is pretty good. I love the blue, first of all, and the cat is deployed in a not-traditional way – it actually looks sort of alien, which is not a bad image to attach to this music. They did a good job with the vertical text.

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