jakub | February 20, 2024

London shoegazers’ debut comes alive in the details

It is never a bad idea to understand how things might go wrong. Whitelands’ ‘Night-bound Eyes Are Blind To The Day’ is one of those gauzy, meditative shoegaze records that could easily prompt you to stare into space, jaw increasingly slack, as it washes over you. So every now and again the London quartet offer a sharp jab in the ribs – with a surprising melody, an unexpected texture – to make sure we’re still paying attention.

It’s a good thing, too, because there’s plenty going on here. The London band – guitarist-vocalist Etienne Quartey-Papafio, guitarist Michael Adelaja, bassist Vanessa Govinden and drummer Jagun Meseorisa – delight in pairing dense sounds with layered, oblique meaning, beginning with a name that is an arch reference to the college at the University of Roehampton where Quartey-Papafio played his first show and the fact they’re people of colour operating in a genre historically dominated by white dudes.

Quartey-Papafio writes emotions as though he is adding accents to an already richly-detailed canvas and, as an extension of that, his unobtrusive voice is then situated as one element in the mix. As a result, he is able to catch you off guard. “Whatever you want is whatever I’ll say I need,” he sings to open the propulsive ‘The Prophet & I’, the complexity of the sentiment slowly leeching beneath the skin.

‘Now Here’s the Weather’ might, in other hands, be delivered as a polemic. But Whitelands pointedly place its not-quite-abstract discussion of racism and imperialism in a blissed-out chorus. “Let’s love thy neighbour / Let’s burn their house,” Quartey-Papafio half-mumbles, daring you to catch the change-up the first time around. Elsewhere, this dynamic is cannily replicated musically. The percussive weight of Govinden’s bass is regularly treated as a rough surface, offering a point of difference to watery chords, while the first stanza of the standout ‘Cheer’ uses Meseorisa’s rattling hi-hat in a similar fashion.

‘Tell Me About It’ (a collaboration with Dottie of dream-poppers Deary) and ‘How It Feels’ are more melodically direct but, interestingly, at their most compelling when the guitars are almost climbing over one another, creating a dizzying mesh of sound. Whitelands’ approach is difficult because all of this really only becomes apparent with close study — that’s a dangerous game to play, but one they appear well-equipped to win.


whitelands album

  • Release date: February 23
  • Record label: Sonic Cathedral

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