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Whispering Sons third album The Great Calm has graced our ears since its release on the 23 February 2024. The album represents a reimagining and rethinking, though this growth has produced a series of songs that are still defiantly and uniquely true to the group. 

 

Spend just a few minutes on the North Sea shore at any time of the year, and you could see anything from still waters to violent pyramid-like black waves dominating the view. Often, in only a matter of moments, you will see both and much in between, all framed within an expanding horizon dotted by distant shadows of land, hinting at other lives and new possibilities. 

 

Fittingly, Whispering Sons completed The Great Calm just 200 metes from the point where this changeable sea brushes the coast, as the five-piece’s new album is not only a record that spans an ocean of emotions, moods, energy and stories, but its nature stems from tidal-like changes within the Brussel-based group. 

Whispering Sons, who formed in 2013 in Limburg and were named after the first cover they played in rehearsal where all involved felt the band click (it is a track by a Danish post-rock group called Moral) – 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. 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. 

We’re very good friends, so to switch things around was easy

Fenne Kuppens

“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. 

“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. 

The themes of my lyrics really clicked into the vibe of the music

Fenne Kuppens

“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’s making is etched through the heart of each of its 12 songs. 

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First single ‘The Talker’ which is threaded around a joyous riff the band almost dismissed as “too frivolous” and fizzes with sarcastic humour as it dissects the nature of social control, encapsulates some of the dynamics that make the whole album enthralling and engaging. Whispering Sons’ calling card post-punk atmospheres are there and so too is Kuppens’ distinctive baritone, but an expanded emotional spectrum has been added to the band’s foundations. “It’s just so different from anything we did before,” notes Kuppens of ‘The Talker’. “It is so playful but at the same time there is still a cynical streak running through that track.” 

 

Songs like the visceral and intense ‘Dragging’, the intimate ‘Still’, ‘Disappearing’ which is guided by natural, subtle saxophone, and the multiple lyrical perspectives of ‘Poor Girl’, with opens in hushed tones before almost ripping itself apart, serve to underline the album’s range – musically and emotionally – something the band achieved due to the fact they controlled every element of its making. 

 

“After two records that were produced by an outsider, let us say, we made a clear decision when we started writing the songs that we wanted to try to make this album by ourselves,” explains Lijnen. “With Bert in the band, we were confident enough to try it, he was leading the process but we as a band could make a lot more decisions this time.”      

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Kuppens notes that this meant the group had to be, at times, frank with one another. Though as the insistent intricate drums and soaring guitars of Something Good, or the dreamlike, sun-flecked snapshot behind Oceanic prove, this was a process that enriched not just the record but the band.   

 

“It was a challenge for us in ways of communicating and making decisions together,” admits the singer. “If we wanted to make something interesting, sometimes we had to go into confrontation with each other but I think that actually brought us together as a band. It was a really great experience and something that we learned a lot from.” 

 

The insides of a car gutted by fire, which adorn the album’s cover, might not initially seem to connect with this spirit, yet this captured moment of aftermath 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. 

The record is more hopeful, there’s more beauty in it

Fenne Kuppens

“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.” 

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