The Whines
Hell to Play

A colleague of mine recently compared Portland’s Whines to Nirvana, and while I wholeheartedly don’t agree with that assessment, I wish I did, because my formative years were directly informed by Cobain and his glorified teen angst. I will theorize, though, that while not directly driven by “Drain You” and “Dumb” as most kids were that came up in my age, in that wake, the kids in the Whines (perhaps being a bit younger than myself) had a rich heritage to absorb and eventually infiltrate. Listening to their mighty debut, Hell to Play, you can hear a rare spirit that doesn’t usually permeate even the best of the lo-fi contingent passing as passing these days. You can hear the landfill left over, and another man’s trash is treasure for the next generation, correct? You can hear anthem-driven streaks left over when wiping free the grime of the post-grunge hangover. You can hear the band obsessing over Guided By Voices lore even as it’s losing its oral history. You can follow them as they start backtracking over the International Pop Underground 7-inchers from those who sold them back (now in regret). You can even smell the rite-of-passage, only whilst drunk marathons in scum pedagogy with Royal Trux. As opposed to most bedroom recordings traipsing over influence with scant respect, Hell to Play feels completely whole in vision and execution. It’s a goldmine for this type of discombobulated nostalgia.

Look over their “space” friends, and brothers and sisters in grotesque arms, including Eat Skull (who helped in recording and releasing this gem), Psychedelic Horseshit and Ganglians, help form the Whines’ sonic range. Though more often than not, they usually operate by burning drowsy pop clutter in songs like “Cut the Meat” or “For Your Safety,” evoking the legacy of dopey pigfuck or the louder takes of Pink Reason and Times New Viking. It’s hard not to spot the influence of the latter in the one-legged sprint through a gauntlet of sassy youth nihilism on “Vacation.” Let us not forget it was Meds who were responsible for 2008’s Hairdryer Peace by the Hospitals, which is arguably the greatest record of the past decade due in part to the record’s face-melting fidelities. Hell to Play is certainly built on that plane, veering through all sorts of brittle and subterranean textures while the songwriting core focuses on some incredible mantra folk sing-a-longs. Just within the album’s searing centerpiece, “Here We Sit,” are layers of feedback, warp zones, and the hum of distant satellites, though they are balanced by an equilibrium of hushed indifferent female vocals and rickety baked acoustic chords. That fuzz is blasted away with “Straybird,” a wood-paneled, living room jam that may as well be the Incredible String Band had they recorded a string of Shrimper cassettes in the mid-90s.

It’s a cute, amusing thought to think that the trio has been waiting on the sidelines for the past half-decade, itching for their chance to jump into the batting cages. All that time, they’ve learned by example (they had great trainers) of what and what not to put on record, trimming out the extraneous buzz, the pretensions and the poses, and eventually taking their shot (one glorious shot mind you). Hell to Play is the record you’ll be hyping all summer long.
Kevin J. Elliott