Andreas Hellweger started Whitescape as a solo project in 2015. He recorded all of the debut album Whitescape at a handful of Viennese studios by himself, consolidating multiple performances into dense chunks of guitar-driven rock. Though lots of solo studio projects sound artificial when the tracks are layered together, Whitescape sounds very natural and professional. The songs should translate easily onstage now that Hellweger has gathered some live musicians for shows.
Whitescape wears its influences proudly, in particular the atmospheric rock of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s; it hearkens back to Brian Eno soundscapes, knotty post-punk guitar and Pink Floyd’s more somber moments. Radiohead’s nervous vibe and complex arrangements also seem to loom large over Hellweger’s work, being the chief reference point on most of the record’s songs. Whitescape is like a “missing link,” a band that can bridge classic rock songwriting with those more modern style elements.
Album opener “You Me, Let Be” has a shuffle feel with a disorienting extra beat in the rhythm, and its gentle guitars give way to a synth arpeggio about halfway through. The insistent refrain of “leave me alone” sets the tone of alienation and detachment for the album’s lyrical content.
Elsewhere, “Againandagain” gives way from burbling electronics into a more stark arrangement, with loose, overdriven alt-rock choruses reminiscient of Incubus. This track really emphasized Hellweger’s vocal talent, emotive but not aggressive.
The following track “Needles and Sparks” marries a martial drumbeat and heavy-handed piano, and also allows the vocal parts to shine, even over a blown-out guitar solo. The one-two punch of “Againandagain” and “Needles and Sparks” ensures Whitescape, though only eight tracks long, does not have a plodding midsection.
Other album highlights included “Gravity,” a stomping track led by fuzzy bass with a computer text-to-speech outro, and slow-burning album closer “Ignimbrite,” which is an intimate piano ballad.
It’s hard to pin a genre to the album--calling it ambient rock does not give enough credit to the clear and forceful guitar and piano parts, though saying Whitescape is a rock n’ roll record would not offer insight to how experimental it can be. Prog rock is not far off the mark, but fortunately, Hellweger doesn’t get caught up in that genre’s tendency for self-indulgence. The songs on Whitescape are purposeful, even when they are moody.
One of the most striking things about the record is its consistency of vision. Many bands sound unfocused on their debut albums, with songwriting and sound lacking unity across tracks. Whitescape, on the other hand, is starting out with a clear blueprint that makes this record cohesive. It’s easy to listen to two or three songs when you only plan to play one, because they flow so well together. Whitescape is a strong statement, and is hopefully just a glimpse at what the band has to offer in the future.
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