The Belgian five-piece Whispering Sons have released their single 'Cold City' and announced new album 'The Great Calm', due in February 2024
The Belgian post-punk band Whispering Sons recently shared the brooding single ‘Cold City’, another tastemaker for the new album and something completely different from the almost joyous first single ‘The Talker’.
‘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. “We settled on the form pretty quickly”, singer Fenne Kuppens explains, “the real challenge was to find the right sounds to carry the feeing 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.
The video for ‘Cold City’ is another chapter of the short film ‘Balm (After Violence)’ which saw its premiere at the Film Fest Ghent and at Left Of The Dial in Rotterdam with a special screening and live performance. Watch the music video here:
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.
We met as a group of friends. This is something that came out of a love for music and an eagerness to play together
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.” Yet making this new record felt different in a way that has pleased and inspired its creators.
With Vliegen’s production credentials to call on, rather than give the band musical sketches to be fleshed out later as he did previously, Lijnen was able to provide more fully formed pictures of his potential new songs.
I find the idea of getting your thoughts onto paper really hard
“Before, the songs were finished in my head but not in a way the group could grasp the full meaning of the idea,” explains the guitarist. “This time Bert and I worked on the demos for a couple of months before we sent them to the rest of the band. Then Fenne could start writing lyrics.”
A native Flemish/Dutch speaker (“although speaking isn’t my forte,” she suggests bashfully), a study of literature at university led Kuppens to adopt English as her songwriting tongue. “I’m not really a writer, per se, I find the idea of getting your thoughts onto paper really hard,” she confesses. “It can be a big struggle for me, but I start writing when I’ve got a deadline or something I have to do like a song, so I only write for the band really.”
Yet The Great Calm proved not quite to be the expected “struggle”. With Lijnen’s more formed demos offering a strong vision for the album’s sound (“I wanted to include more guitar on the record again, more energetic guitar,” he notes. “On the second record we stripped down the gothic atmosphere of the first album but in doing that, I think it was maybe too minimalistic”) his songwriting partner found herself immediately connected to the music.
“It was really good to have these demos in a more mature form because it created an atmospheric whole, so it was easier for me to write lyrics,” Kuppens reveals. “I knew what Kobe’s songs were about straightaway, so the themes of my lyrics really clicked into the vibe of the music. The first song I wrote words for was ‘Cold City’, and it was very clear from the start that it takes place in winter, immediately it had that sort of atmosphere around it. The album really started from there.”
Encouragement then came from an unexpected quarter, American poet Louise Glück. “The funny thing was that when I finished that first song, I took up a book of poetry by Louise Glück and there were exactly the same themes and images in those poems,” recalls Kuppens. “I was like, ‘this can’t be a coincidence’ so I started exploring that and I created a framework, a story for the whole record. Once I had a story figured out, I let go of it because I felt it also limited the writing, you don’t want to get stuck within a framework. But once I got through that process the ideas for each song just became very clear.”
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 is 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.”
The record is more hopeful, there’s more beauty in it
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.”
Pre-order The Great Calm here:
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