Whitehall’s new album, Swordfish Catcher, is half garage-rock noise, half polished guitar pop. It’s 11 tracks of massive riffs and muscular rhythms, with singer/guitarist Paddy McKiernan’s coolly melancholy vocals riding above the din. Tracks like “Tuesday” and “Automated” are raw-but-melodic gems, gleaming with shimmering hooks and big, full-throated choruses.
In other words, it is literally nothing like the first Whitehall album, 2018’s Ocean Fiction.
That album was stylish, sleek, light and danceable. McKiernan and Avery Greeson’s guitars were typically used as texture or to accent the melodies; Pat Magwood’s warm tenor sax was the featured instrument, and even in its rawest moments, there was nothing unkempt about the sound.
Or, as Whitehall bassist Brennan Clark put it, “The first record was a little more dance-y. This one feels a little more garage and heavier. It wasn’t super intentional; it just came out more like that.”
Part of the reason for the change is that Magwood left the band before Swordfish Catcher was recorded. His departure meant the rest of the group had to completely rethink their sound.
“It got us to flex different creative muscles,” Clark said. “And obviously, the writing process changed our roles individually. Avery plays lead guitar now, and that takes up a lot of the space that Pat filled. It was definitely new and fun, and I think that’s why the album is so different.”
Ocean Fiction generated a lot of buzz because of Whitehall’s unique sound anchored, in part, by Magwood’s sax. But knowing that evolution, the band is eager to see how Swordfish Catcher will be received.
“I don’t know that we’ve prepared a ‘reaction,’” McKiernan said with a laugh, “But I think we’re just really stoked about this new chapter. And we hope we can bring everyone along with us and they’ll continue to change and grow with us, because I’m sure the third record is going to be different, too.”
McKiernan is already eyeing Whitehall’s third album for good reason: The band has been living with most of the songs on Swordfish Catcher for two years or so.
“We started writing them late 2018, early 2019,” Clark said, “right after Ocean Fiction came out. It was a two-year process of writing and recording, altogether.”
Whitehall might be one of the few bands that’s found a silver lining in not being able to play live during the darkest days of the pandemic. The crew was able to work without distraction at The Space Charleston (formerly Rialto Row) with producer Preston Dunnavant.
“It kind of worked out because when we were going in to record it, it was right at the beginning of COVID,” said drummer Davis Rowe. “We weren’t trying to go out and play shows, so we had a lot more time to work on the record. It helped us a little bit in that sense.”
Now that playing live is slowly becoming a possibility, the band has to figure out how to handle its old material without Magwood, all while they’ve also got a batch of songs ready for their third album.
“I’ve heard it said that every band’s favorite songs are the ones they just wrote,” Clark said with a laugh.
And as for the Ocean Fiction material, “There’s a few songs that we can’t pull off without the saxophone,” Clark said, “So that will probably limit some of our ability to play them in the short term. With enough time, we could probably rearrange them.”
Nevertheless, Whitehall’s Ocean Fiction success has paid dividends, with over 1 million streams on Spotify and around 30,000 monthly listeners. A fact that helps sustain the group as they prepare to head back on the road.
“This can be pretty grueling,” Clark added, “So, the affirmation and validation is very, very welcome.”
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