Whispering Sons - The Great Calm (PIAS)

  Van Muylem    23 februari 2024

Belgian five-piece Whispering Sons announce their new album ‘The Great Calm’, out on February 23rd via [PIAS] Recordings. Following the dark, expansive power of 2018’s Image and 2021’s minimal Several Others, Whispering Sons’ third album The Great Calm’represents a reimagining and rethinking, though this growth has produced a series of songs that are still defiantly and uniquely true to the group.

To start with Whispering Sons are a five-piece once again. Original drummer Sander Pelsmaekers had to drop out of playing music after suffering nerve damage (and even took the role of the group's tour manager in the interim) but is now able to return on synths. Bassist Tuur Vandeborne has moved over to the drum stool, while the band’s long-term engineer – an experienced producer in his own right – Bert Vliegen has joined on bass. Guitarist and songwriter Kobe Lijnen and vocalist and lyricist Fenne Kuppens retain their roles, but they too have adapted and evolved their approaches for The Great Calm.

Yet while this might all seem like upheaval from the outside, for the band these changing currents have in fact led them to an artistic place that feels comfortably their own.

“I think the most important thing about us is that we met as a group of friends and started the band,” notes Kuppens,this is something that came out of a love for music and an eagerness to play together. And now we’re 10 years further. Not that much has really changed. The dynamics are always the same. We're very close to each other, we’re very good friends, so to switch things around was easy.”

Recorded in four weeks – two in the Audioworkx studio near Eindhoven, Holland, before being finished at the start of 2023 using a homemade set-up on Vlieland, a small Dutch island just off the North Sea coast – the power, energy and beauty behind The Great Calm’s making is etched through the heart of each of its 12 songs.

The insides of a car gutted by fire, which adorn the album’s cover chimes with The Great Calm’s wider sense of renewal. In fact, the photograph by Belgium-born, Australian-based artist Wouter Van de Voorde was selected by Kuppens who art-directed the record while she was in the middle of writing album opener ‘Standstill’.

“He showed me this picture and I knew I really wanted to do something with it because at that time I was writing a song about a car and driving through your childhood memories, driving through the past,” she explains. “When I saw this burned-out car, it just clicked again, like the moment with the poetry.”

And the creative connection to Glück went deeper still, with the poet – inadvertently – helping to name the album.

“There was just one verse where she wrote about the great calm and I was like, ‘wow!’ It felt very cinematic,”Kuppens adds. “I like the sense of grandeur in a phrase like The Great Calm. It just really describes what the characters in the songs are striving for, this sense of peace and calmness, but it's also something that's probably non-existent too because it sounds too much like a dream. It’s just too big a concept and I find that scale funny but in a serious way. So it fits the album because everything is about moving forward. The record is more hopeful, there’s more beauty in it. Our last album was very dark and always very destructive. I guess this one is still a bit destructive, but there's hope in that destruction.”

Let’s now focus on the review of the album and after listening to it a first time I must say the title of the album is well choosen! I feel like Fenne has found inner peace and that had a huge influence on the global sound. I feel like listening to an album created by an older artist who looks back at a past filled with wild years, exposure, looking for the limit and going a bit over the limit. At some point I was even thinking about David Bowie’s last album, where he was almost singing from his grave, but there are some heavy songs on it too (heavy like a high tempo, mood swings, soundwise). So it gives a bit of erveything for everybody: old fans should be pleased and we also discover some new paths and newer sounds. This album shows for sure they are not standing still and are for sure not doing the same thing over and over like a lot of bands who reign in the same genre. Kudos for that!

The band handed out comments for each track, so you’ll get that too!

Standstill is exactly what they are not doiing: working hard to find a new path, new sounds a new vision, new lyrics, … Fenne sings clearly with a smoked out voice, a bit down and a bit bored. The music sounds calm, but you can feel that something is pushing to burst. The guitar sound is an excellent example of that. I like the exploding endgame here!

‘Standstill’ was the first demo to be tackled by the band, yet a hard one to finish. It had taken on numerous forms before ending up the way it is, completely stripped to the essence. In Whispering Sons’ typical ominous vein, the song visually describes an exploration of the past and all the pain that it still harbours. When writing the lyrics to this song, Fenne was in dialogue with Wouter Van de Voorde for the artwork of the album. Wouter showed her a picture of a burned-out car and suddenly everything fell into place. ‘Standstill’ became the opener of the album and an introduction to its thoughts and themes

Walking, Flying sounds a bit like an old school Whispering Sons track with Fenne slowly building up the tension and a melancholic touch.

‘Walking, Flying’ is undoubtedly Whispering Sons’ most uplifting song to date and shows a more hopeful and optimistic side of the band. Both musically and lyrically, the track lingers on one idea. A solid and steady rhythm section carries the verses, while the vocals and the rest of the instruments are carefully spun around it, interacting with each other and propelling the song into an elevating chorus. ‘Walking, Flying’ was the first song the band tried out live while still in the process of writing the album. As a result, it not only became a band’s favourite to perform, but also served as a reference point for the rest of the record.

Cold City makes me think of Brussels and the hope it once had to become a big city, but failed. The golden years are over and now we even have no go zone’s for cops. It’s a dirty city, dirty and cold and it could have been shiny and bright … The tempo of the song is slow, but ads nicely with the melancholia and the sadness.

‘Cold City’ is as icy as its title suggests. Describing a desire so unattainable, it feels like a nostalgic song, albeit a nostalgia for something that doesn’t even exist yet. Settling on the form pretty quickly, the real challenge was to find the right sounds to carry the feeling of the song. By layering synth upon synth and adding lots of texture, Whispering Sons created a song that’s small and fragile, but very rich in atmosphere.

Dragging is the best and strongest track on the album! I call it a must become a single track! Feel the energy, feel the outbursts! It’s a big bang!

With ‘Dragging’ Whispering Sons invites you into the drudgery of life, only to leave you dumbfounded as the song reaches its end. It’s a guitar-driven track, one of many on this album, flooding you with a piercing wall of sound and pushed further by an urging drum track. This song proves that on ‘The Great Calm’, the guitar reclaimed its prominent place, making the search for the right guitar sounds more important than on any of Whispering Sons’ previous albums

Something Good has a good tempo, a nice global sound, some outbursts but focuses mainly on the story telling. The guitar play is excellent and keeps this track very interesting. I love the line: I smoked them out and the way Fenne builds up the tension with this one line! Excellent work!

“I smoked them out” was the first sentence Fenne had written for the new record, but it did not get a follow-up until much later in the writing process. Only when the song underwent drastic changes from a long dragging track to a concise and energetic one did everything make sense. With a chorus clocking in within 30 seconds and a guitar solo that isn’t really a guitar solo (inspired by the Buzzcocks’ unequalled ‘Boredom’), ‘Something Good’ is the most pop-fueled track on the album. The lyrics however are not as upbeat as the music, dealing with an uncertainty that stems from making a seismic decision.

Still, Disappearing starts with Fenne accompagnied by a piano (genre 1959 from The Sisters of Mercy). I also hear some strings.

‘Still, Disappearing’ is Whispering Sons’ first attempt at a full-band piano ballad. As the story gradually unfolds, so does the music. With a lot of room for Fenne’s narration, the song grows organically, without the use of synthesizers and other electronics, and builds towards a shattering and irreversible epilogue. Some things you just can’t understand, let alone explain.

The Talker is one of the more innovative tracks on this album and will be a surprise for the older fans. It’s not bad, but you have to get used to the happier global sound and the guitar play. The drums remind me a bit of Siglo XX.

‘The Talker’ is unlike any other Whispering Sons track. It’s a frivolous and playful song, exploring a cheeky instrumental interplay, yet imbued with a direct cynical undertone. “You’ve never been much of a talker” is the pinnacle of annoyance towards people who think they own you. Unsure what to do with the song, ‘The Talker’ had been the subject of debate for a long time before the band finally decided that it had earned its place on the album. Now it’s an essential part of the story and, as the first single to be released, a song that is bound to introduce the listener to a more open and daring Whispering Sons.

Balm (After Violence) is another soft song where they have been experimenting with the sound. I fear it will be a skipper for a lot of fans. The eomtions and the sadness towards the end lifts the sound to a higher level.

’Balm (After Violence)’ does not carry the calm it so desperately seeks. While the piano track and the vocals try to salve and soothe, the rest of the instrumentation constantly counters it. Destroying the drum track and experimenting with disintegrating tape loops was definitely a fun thing to do in the studio, but the result is sinister and dramatic.

Poor Girl starts slowly, has explosive moments: a bit like a sea that doubds between genly wheeping or getting into a stormy mood.

‘Poor Girl’ is a song full of contrasts, where each part has its own identity and tells the same story from a different perspective. While the form was clear from very early on, the execution of it wasn’t. The band knew what it wanted to achieve, but did not know how to get there. It only started to make sense once they decided to not play anything, but let the noise do its thing.

Loose Ends starts slowly and exlpodes towards the end. I would call it the second best track on the album and am sure it will be a success on stage!

‘Loose Ends’ shifts in every direction. It’s confusing and off-balance, until everything eventually comes together in the second part of the song when it fiercely starts looking for a way out. With ‘The Great Calm’ being the first record with Tuur on drums, the difference in approach is very noticeable. Especially in ‘Loose Ends’, the more organic way of drumming adds a new originality to the song.

Oceanic is a slow song, build up around a beating heart and supported by a piano (that seems to be happening more on this album). It’s also somehow something new for this band

An album full of firsts, it seems, as this is the very first love song ever written by Whispering Sons. ‘Oceanic’ started out as an infinite jam with little direction, but was eventually arranged to become a fragile song about small moments. With repetitive and mantra-like elements - those cascading pianos took the whole afternoon to record, with Kobe playing the same line over and over again - the song has one simple and universal feeling to express, but does so in a typical Whispering Sons manner.

Try Me Again is one of the best songs on this album and a perfect end song. I’m sure it will be a perfect end song for a gig too! It might even become a fan favourite song as it has the potential to make it! Call it out as a single please!

‘Try Me Again’ is Kobe’s take on writing a shoegaze song gone wrong. It’s big and bombastic, serving as an ideal encore-song, with a chorus that leaves little to the imagination. It may become your favourite song on the album, or you may want to avoid it at all costs. There’s no in-between.

Well the album has ups and downs, but it also shows different (new) sides of the band and hands out an album with a lot of different songs. It’s an interesting album that might open new paths for the band but for the same price they might loose some fans. They took a risk and let’s see now how the world will react to this album.


06.03.24 – 4AD, Diksmuide SOLD OUT

17.03.24 – Cactus Club, Brugge SOLD OUT

20.03.24 – Botanique, Brussel SOLD OUT

22.03.24 – De Roma, Antwerpen SOLD OUT

23.03.24 – Reflektor, Luik

+ 07.07.24 Rock Werchter!