Dicks Picks: Swirling in the haze of the debut Chapterhouse album, Whirlpool

Time to revisit one of the hidden gems from the ‘90s shoegaze and indie scene, Whirlpool, the debut album from Chapterhouse.

They are far from the most obscure band to burst out of the fertile indie scene of the early ‘90s, and the albums lead single, Pearl, certainly generated a fair bit of success for the Reading-based quintet.

Formed in the late ‘80s, the band actually employed a triple guitar onslaught, which was quite uncommon at the time. They were initially caught up in the acid-laced alternative rock scene and lumped in with the likes of Spacemen 3 and The Stone Roses. The laid-back vibe of those bands didn’t fit Chapterhouse. While they may have not had the ear-shattering dissonance of My Bloody Valentine, they would soon find themselves alongside Slowdive, Lush, Ride, and Moose.

Caught up in the hyperbole of labels signing any bad that remotely fit the white-hot shoegaze tag of the moment, Chapterhouse joined the small indie label Dedicated. They would then release a number of singles, before finally unveiling their Whirlpool on April 29, 1991.

While there are plenty of comparisons to be made to much of the more well-known bands of the time, Chapterhouse somehow took a bit of what all the others were doing and made it their own. That was probably unintentional, too, but it is what makes Whirlpool such an enjoyable listen that stands the test of time.

Pearl is without a doubt the stand out track. It is carried by a fairly simple chord progression that is soaked in reverb, with still enough breathing space for Andrew Sherriff’s swooning vocals to cut through the wash. The addition of Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell providing backing vocals just adds to the lackadaisical haze of the track.

Production duties were handled the band, along with Ralph Jezzard, who cut his teeth working with punk bands such as Angelic Upstarts, Cock Sparrer, and The Business. After progressing into a more expansive production territory, Jezzard helped bring out the best in Chapterhouse. He provided a raw quality to the riffs through Falling Down and Something More, allowing them to soar through the feedback and delay that dances in and out of the tracks.

The tragic thing for Chapterhouse is that they didn’t quite get the same recognition as their peers. This led to a stylistic shift on their 1993 follow up, Blood Music, and as history has gone to show, it never quite works well. Why do you think Ride now call their own 1994 album ‘Carnival of Shite’…

The band sadly parted ways and went on to join various other bands, only reuniting for a brief run of shows in 2010. Perhaps if we could turn the clock back, there’s no telling what Chapterhouse might have been, but at least we were blessed with such as wonderful album as Whirlpool.

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