Whisper Room: Birch White

Birch White is the debut album from Toronto trio Whisper Room which features Aidan Baker of Nadja fame on guitar, Neil Wiernik (aka Naw) manning bass and laptop, and Jakob Thiesen (a sound designer and Foley artist by trade) on drums. The three met in 1999 through The Ambient Ping (a Toronto-based community of sound artists, performers, musicians, and visual artists) when they found themselves slotted on the same bill, an experience which prompted them to occasionally play together onstage in the years following and to ultimately formalize their union as Whisper Room at a December 2006 show. The album's eight untitled tracks present an interesting and psychedelically-tinged amalgam of shoegaze, electroacoustic, and krautrock that's delivered in a free-flowing improv spirit. Tracks typically build slowly, gaining in intensity without ever going off the deep end; when Baker gets up to some intense multi-layered raving during track five, he does so while still retaining control.

To their credit, the musicians refrain from doing anything so obvious as blistering rave-ups and ear-shattering meltdowns—Birch White ain't a noise outing, in other words, though there are a few well-earned aggressive episodes. In track three, for example, Wiernik delicately sprinkles electronic dust over Baker's plaintive guitar strokes while Thiesen holds the material in place with a steady and unobtrusive pulse. Track four starts out as an exercise in textural sound sculpting with electronic warbles and grime subtly augmented by atmospheric guitar shadings and subtle bass anchoring before rising to a more feverish pitch with burning guitar lines doing battle with louder electronic flourishes. The fullest plunge into psychedelia arrives in the thirteen-minute seventh piece where Baker's playing is heard at its most stratospheric. Though some listeners may be disappointed to find Birch White so generally well-behaved—civilized and polished, that is, rather than raw—, others will be pleased to discover Whisper Room executing its material with patience and restraint.

June 2009