Chapterhouse had plenty of time to refine its trancey pop atmospherics: the young Reading quintet was together more than three years before piling together British singles (including “Pearl”) and new tracks into the descriptively titled Whirlpool. Gauzy dream-pop with a solid structural center, Chapterhouse’s songs are not the usual vague, floating clouds but exceptionally agreeable bolts of catchiness dressed for a long winter in comfortable layers of echoey guitar fuzz and wispy voices. A surprisingly cohesive (if not exactly consistent) album despite an abundance of distinctive producers (Robin Guthrie and Stephen Hague, among others) and two equally tuneful writers in singer/guitarists Andrew Sherriff and Stephen Patman, Whirlpool gets added points for sticking to a brisk timetable, energetically moved along by Ashley Bates’ firmly economical drumming. A better breed of shoegazing. (Fun geographical fact: bassist Russell Barrett is from Vermont.)
Although Whirlpool‘s “Falling Down” does hit a forceful acid dance groove, the band’s beat-crazy second album is still a shock. All that careful preparation evidently didn’t ensure stability regarding the bigger picture, but few bands could survive such a major redirection without doing substantial damage to themselves. Chapterhouse get away scot-free, sounding as good as new. Discharging their drummer to immerse themselves in rhythm on Blood Music, the remaining quartet keeps an airy vocal presence while bringing guitars down from the clouds, turning to keyboards, samples, heavy electronic percussion and producer Pascal Gabriel (Inspiral Carpets, EMF, Peter Murphy). Another tuneful delight in a different kitchen, Blood Music hustles and bustles, putting emphatic rhythms into songs that could have been cut from the first album’s sparkling pop cloth. “Summer’s Gone,” “On the Way to Fly,” the jangly “Greater Power” and the sharp-toothed guitar rockers “We Are the Beautiful” and “She’s a Vision” are good examples. Even longwinded adventures like “Deli” and the trippy “Love Forever” have songs lurking in there someplace.
Initial copies of Blood Music contain a bonus disc with two double-length Hague club mixes of “We Are the Beautiful,” the beguiling non-LP “Frost” and a hypnotic fifteen-minute sonic happening entitled “Picnic.” Blood Music: Pentamerous Metamorphosis is an hour of “retranslation” (“composed from the cells of blood music”) by Global Communication (Mark Pritchard and Tom Middleton).