Whatever Brains, See Gulls
506 W. Franklin St
Chapel Hill, NC, 27516
Doors 8:00 PM / Show 9:00 PM
Watch & Listen
After too much time freelance writing and watching re-runs in a windowless Brooklyn basement, guitarist and songwriter Sadie Dupuis left New York City for the wilds of Northampton, MA in order to pursue a master's degree in poetry. In doing so, she began Speedy Ortiz, a self-recorded lo-fi project named after a minor character from the Love and Rockets comic series. Speedy Ortiz soon became something else entirely as bassist Darl Ferm, guitarist Matt Robidoux, and drummer Mike Falcone teamed up to form a full band, balancing abrasive noise with infectious earworms. The newly minted Speedy Ortiz quickly found an audience in the Boston DIY scene, playing frequently with their friends Pile, Grass is Green, Fat History Month, Sneeze, Krill, and Arvid Noe.
Almost immediately, the band recorded a two-song single, "Taylor Swift" and "Swim Fan," with Paul Q. Kolderie (Pixies, Hole) and Justin Pizzoferrato (Chelsea Light Moving, Dinosaur Jr.), and self-released it in March of 2012. Shortly thereafter they spent a few weekends at the dingy yet atmospheric Sex Dungeon Studios in Philadelphia recording the Sports EP, a five-track, loosely conceptual 10" released that June on Exploding in Sound Records.
The creation of Major Arcana, their full-length debut, marks the evolution of Speedy Ortiz into a wholly collaborative effort. Darl leans toward basic, chunky parts, while Mike, a talented songwriter in his own right, helped arrange while also providing aggressive, boisterous drums. And Matt is a classically trained guitarist, but his experience in noise and experimental music comes through in his anti-melodic guitar solos, which counterbalance Sadie's angular, scalar guitar riffs and poppy vocals.
The end result is a band able to distill their influences and creative impulses into something at once dissonant and melodic, noisy yet undeniably pop.
In the half-hour it takes to hear Whatever Brains' Soft Dick City—a spray-painted, cassette-only release bookended by a screeching Urinals cover and a Johnny Cash sound-collage sabotage—there's little question what this Raleigh quartet is about: This is a band that can't sit still. From The Urinals homage and the Johnny Cash sacrilege to the hooky-and-hissy space between, raw enthusiasm comes tied together with jagged and noisy interludes.
Within that jittery impatience and irreverent ruckus, witness a consistency of style that's not just uncommon but mostly unknown for such a new band. And Whatever Brains has done it twice now. Just as Soft Dick City feels spontaneous in its noise and spittle-lipped in its urgency, the subsequent Mt. Whatever 7" feels self-assured and somehow meticlous in its relative professionalism.
The three tracks that comprise Mt. Whatever—two of which, the title track and "Summer Jammin," are reprised from Soft Dick City—come out cleaner, which is to say less shrouded in feedback, but no less excitable. On the 7" version of "Mount Whatever," cooed vocal harmonies turn to roars behind Rich Ivey's snotty snarl (Ivey is a contributor to the Independent Weekly). Jagged guitars spike harder, but with less static. It sounds no less primal than on the tape, where a droning rumble cloaks the song, making it rough and rowdy. The no-fi charm and noise-fueled unification of Soft Dick City is exhilarating, but the same holds—just in different ways—for Mt. Whatever's half-polished fits. The tape trades undulating feedback and squelching electronics for the single's basic guitars-bass-drums setup. Neither suffers the exchange.
Taken together, these two releases—both issued on formats you may consider obsolete—are defiantly good but defiantly inaccessible for mass markets. Just 500 copies of a 7" and a handful of cassette tapes remain as the lone artifacts of the band's existence to date. This is the sort of sticky stuff that could be huge, though (we've called these Brains "Raleigh's best new band," and we'll echo that here). Collectors and early listeners are rewarded, then, with two very different but complementary releases, each of which keeps its best track—Soft Dick City's "Swhatever" and Mt. Whatever's b-side, "Crass Ringtones"—proprietary and isolated. This is the stuff from which anthems, legends and eBay auctions come.
What functions as a two-part debut shows Whatever Brains to be a band born fully formed, a more prickly and brash cousin to Ivey's defunct Crossed Eyes, but with a similar foundation on pop-structured punk. Indeed, it's Whatever Brains' greatest virtue that, behind the din of scorched amps, shattered chords and snot-rocket singing, there's a gooey bubblegum center charged with immediacy and drunken abandon.
Hatching fully-formed from the nest of the fecund Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill, North Carolina metroplex, See Gulls' darkly jubilant rock stylings and the gleeful ferocity of their live performances make an immediate impression. Founded in 2013, See Gulls' current lineup, including Sarah Fuller (guitar/lead vocals), Maria Albani (drums/vocals), Leah Gibson (bass/vocals), and Duncan Webster (lead guitar/vocals), coalesced after original guitarist/songwriter/videographer Jacki Huntington moved to New York City in 2014. From the start, See Gulls have worked to hone the complex rhythms, shifting time signatures, and cascading harmonies that are their hallmarks.
On the strength of early demos alone, See Gulls earned the opportunity to cut their debut record, "You Can't See Me," with Mitch Easter (R.E.M., Dinosaur Jr., Ex Hex) at Fidelitorium Recordings in February 2014.
Almost as soon as their first two songs hit Bandcamp and Soundcloud in April, they began winning supporters and making
converts. Legendary rock critic Everett True breathlessly likened them to The Breeders and Throwing Muses, writing that these tantalizing morsels wrought "an overarching physical pain inside of me" at the thought "that there is See Gulls music out there I haven’t yet heard." Lars Gotrich of NPR's "All Songs Considered" was sold on "Don't Write Me Love Songs" from its opening line, touting See Gulls as a must-see at Raleigh's fifth annual Hopscotch Music Festival.
Self-described as a "Surf version of TLC," See Gulls' sound is difficult to pin down, inviting comparisons that run the gamut from the harmonic pop groups of the early rock era to bleeding-edge ramshackle garage rock. They've shared bills with critical darlings and fan favorites from Mac DeMarco and Speedy Ortiz to Ex Hex. Having already drawn
international attention, See Gulls have also made a decided impact on their local scene.
In September 2014, when a DJ referred to them as "a little girl band from Durham," the ensuing furor led directly to the implementation of gender training policies for on-air talent. Whatever you call them, See Gulls defy easy categorization, preferring that the music speak for itself, and inviting everyone to bounce and scream along.