Whale Fall is almost too interesting for a mere review. They need a parade or a festival or something. Of course, based on their new EP The Madrean, the parade would have to be through a ghost down replete with tumbleweeds and other such southwestern brick-a-brack.
Now based in Los Angeles, all the members are from some area of the American Southwest; New Mexico, the California High Desert and even as far north as Denver. In previous works this experimental, largely electronic band had intimated that their sound was influenced by this area of the country to which botanists and geologists refer as “the madrean.” Their 2011 self-titled album contained many dry, windswept sound effects and echoey qualities which would have given listeners the distinct feeling of arid desert landscapes had they been to the region, but The Madrean is much more deliberate.
Each element of each song on The Madrean is meant to illicit a sound, feeling or even a visage which corresponds to an element in the madrean region, so named because of its proximity to the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range. With this model, this shoegaze/jazz fusion band intended to quite literally recreate the feelings of the high desert with sound. The dueling electric and acoustic guitars lay the foundation and are meant to represent the stark contrast between earth and sky in the desert, while the jazzy trumpet and keyboards punctuate the sonic landscape in the same way the sparse plants and animals do the arid expanse of the desert. Even the bass and percussion are meant to signify the movement of the tectonic plates underfoot.
That said, the works on The Madrean are most definitely fully-formed songs and not just experimental snippets. While there is some dissonant jazz fusion in the trumpet saxophone work, largely each song is still very rooted in shoegazer indie rock and electronics. Opening track “The Dawn Thief,” for example, begins with a base of early 90s acoustic guitar and then layers on more esoteric electric guitar work before a Spanish-sounding jazz trumpet brings the song to a very unique and southwestern place. It may remind some listeners of a spaghetti western if it collided with a college radio song.
The all-instrumental Whale Fall have made something really special with The Madrean, and it is definitely recommended that fans of shoegaze, indie, experimental electronic music, jazz and John Wayne movies give them a try. Their Bandcamp page offers the whole album with the “name your price” option, so it’s a great album to pick up for your next road trip or if you want to experience the American Southwest in sound form.