I don't know what they're putting in the water in Minnesota, but to paraphrase a certain game show host, it's proven to be one potent potable. The North Star state has spawned a host of talent from its chilly, lake-filled recesses, including the obvious MVPs The Mats, Hüsker Dü, Bobby Zimmerman, and this handsome devil. Its latest export of note is The Chambermaids, whose third LP, Whatever Happened Tomorrow, is out now.
Helmed by siblings Neil and Martha Weir, the pair has been making music since 2003, originally under the moniker The Shut-Ins, a pairing of the duo and drum machine. They started recording as The Chambermaids a few years later, releasing their self-titled debut in 2006. After a sophomore album, a rotating roster, and a brief hiatus, the now-foursome (joined by Nate Nelson and Alex Rose) are back with their third effort.
Listening through Whatever Happened Tomorrow, it becomes clear that the band has a knack for delivering diverse and lush soundscapes. This is evidenced by listening to the album opener, “Whirlpool,” which is simultaneously spacious, restrained, and brimming with glassy guitar refrains. The jangly instrumentals extend into the next track, “I Wonder Why,” a song that swims with buzzing guitar lines flecked with psych-rock distortion. The melodic sensibility and abundance of reverb on these tracks and others is reminiscent of the Dunedin sound cultivated by Flying Nun. This is true of “Electric Sky,” arguably the album’s poppiest moment and a veritable sing-along gem. The Chambermaids are keenly aware of their similarities to Flying Nun bands, both exhibiting a predilection toward guitars that drone and jangle with ample reverberation. In this day and age, bands can be reticent to reveal their influences for fear of being pigeonholed. But The Chambermaids’ influences—also including Yo La Tengo, Wire, and My Bloody Valentine—are pointed out with startling accuracy and frankness.
One influence The Chambermaids seem to have on lock is their command over shoegaze in its many shapes and sizes. On “Scraped Away,” subdued croons float over ringing guitar sections, bringing to mind the Chapterhouse/Slowdive contingent. The next track, “She’s Not Haunted,” is a slowburning display of guitar work (and an unabashed MBV shoutout) that delves into deep fields of distortion. Part of The Chambermaids’ charm (as well as another linkage to shoegaze of yore) is the aforementioned vocals. Neil’s voice is often hushed and understated, navigating through swarms of reverb. Martha’s, meanwhile, is airy and ethereal, often helming the catchy “oohs” that round out “Electric Sky,” “Whirlpool,” and “I Wonder Why.” Her voice is also one of the few ingredients on the lovely title track. Ambient guitar strums and subtle vocals bring the album to a close, providing a somber and plaintive conclusion.
Color me a wannabe aesthetician, but I'm particularly fond of album artwork. Show me some bold lines or handsome typography and my mouth will start watering. That said, the Whatever Happened Tomorrow cover art, designed by Twin Cities visual and sound artist Casey Deming, gets a check plus in my book. It's as if S. Neil Fujita moseyed on over from the jazz aisle to post-punk and sidled up to a copy of Wire’s 154. On the geometrical and textured cover, shapes are layered over one another, not fitting together per se, but coalescing nonetheless. The same pattern could be suggested of the songs—the groups' myriad sounds don't always fit together perfectly. The Chambermaids explore various intonations of shoegaze and jangly guitar pop, oscillating between ambient slowburners and raucous jams. Some songs melt into one another while other transitions are more incongruous. But as the band demonstrates, maybe that's ok. Like the artwork, these diverse sounds coalesce with one another, resulting in a stronger, more vibrant whole.