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A Magazine for Sheffield

whale detective whale detective

On their self-titled debut, Sheffield duo whale detective drift on a dark tide of loops and drones, their voyage charted by sparse beacons of melody.

Released: 6 August 2021
whale detective

Recorded in a single day with no compositional anchor besides one pre-written melody and a loop, whale detective dives head-first into aquatic ambience, leaving any hint of concrete structure to sink to the bottom.

This album, improvisatory by nature and comprised of minimal instruments, relies on the musical chemistry between clarinettist Hannah and pianist Jez to stay afloat. Luckily, their conversational duets mesmerise with a natural ebb and flow.

On album opener ‘Fisherman (for Helen)’, clarinet flutters and swoops, evoking the pastoral scenes of Vaughan Williams’ ‘The Lark Ascending’, and piano twinkles much like Koji Kondo’s ethereal soundtrack for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Buried beneath these melodious interactions, synthesisers rumble and programmed loops scuttle in obscure rhythms. With atmosphere as their main focus, whale detective thrive on this restricted sonic palette, using a bionic fusion of acoustic and electronic instruments and subtle harmonic progressions to enliven their skeletal songwriting.

This simplicity could easily have led to stagnation, but while their songs do meander at their own pace, the emotional variations between tracks keeps the album’s 30 minutes fresh at every turn. ‘Dreadful Sense of Power’ conjures up just that, with a sorcerous assembly of piano, clarinet and synth, while ‘Blue, blue, and blue again, and blue once more’ stays true to its own title, rising from the murk of the song to meet glorious waves of clarinet and piano with no synth in earshot. Two-part album closer ‘Ghosts’ sees these synths creep back from the gloom, with loops rattling underneath spectral piano chords calling upon the impressionistic powers of Debussy.

While whale detective appears austere in concept, its elements coalesce perfectly in practice. The musical chemistry between Hannah and Jez is undeniable and, with the aid of atmospheric electronics, their improvisations mesmerise.