EP Premiere: Little Whales – “An Exercise In Patience”

Posted: by The Editor

This week, a debate has been roiling in the bowels of r/emo—the combination Kinsella-jukebox/teen-mall-brawl subreddit that serves as a de facto proving ground for new emo bands. A post titled “What will emo sound like in the 2020s?” prompted over 200 impassioned comments litigating a fundamentally innocuous and easily answered question (mostly the same, I’d imagine).

There was no consensus, but guesses were largely grouped into two categories: 1. Emo is dying or already dead, and 2. It’s going to be blended with an unlikely second genre. Re: 1, I’m old enough to have seen the death of emo predicted every two or three years, typically spearheaded by a group of world-weary old heads and emo elder statesmen (men between the ages of 21 and 24). And as far as 2 goes, there’s already a number of bands exploring “crossover emo” sounds, but your sample is going to be skewed if you’re narrowing your scope to solely U.S. music.

As someone who listens to and writes about all manner of guitar music from Asia, I believe the best place to look for emo-inspired music expanding the genre’s the fairly limited palate is overseas.

Little Whales is a band from Bombay, India, consisting of Vrishank Walia Menon on guitar, drums, and vocals and Apurv Agrawal on bass, synth, and production duties. Both have been in a litany of bands already: I first became familiar with Menon from his work as the guitarist of Death by Fungi, a steamroller of a band dealing out Converge-style bursts of mathematically precise chaos and sinewy metalcore with equal amounts of force. Their 2019 EP, Die In Bombay, is a relentless 8 minutes of frustration with the culture of violence that plagues Bombay, interrogating the ways that individual inaction makes one complicit.

Menon began playing drums in school to be able to perform in Battle of the Bands (an institution that has launched the careers of more young musicians than any arts grant or initiative ever has). He described these bands as “boring alt-rock,” but while he kept time for his friends, he began writing his own punk and hardcore music, which first turned into songs for Death by Fungi, but later become work that he saved for a solo project that evolved into Little Whales.

The band’s debut EP, An Exercise In Patience is about as large a departure from Death By Fungi’s onslaught as possible, a collection of gauzy, introspective emo tunes inspired by the genre’s golden era, draped in the enormous guitar tones and anthemic crescendos of shoegaze. Menon credits this emo-gaze approach to his love of bands like Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine, Christie Front Drive, and American Football: “There’s some shoegaze, some emo, some math rock, some slowcore…This EP just draws on whatever kinds of indie rock I like.”

The EP’s title was mirrored several times in its creation. Some of these songs date back to 2017: working on them has been a slow process, tucked into the spare moments not already filled with Menon’s other bands. Also, having cut his teeth drumming for punk and grind bands, Menon says that one of the great challenges in making this record was learning to drum slowly. The album’s slow gestation led to an exploratory recording process, sonic experiments that became integral parts of the songs’ structure. Menon says, “We … tried to make the recording process as DIY and old school as we could. We actually recorded the vocals passing them through a bunch of pedals, our approach to it was like a Sonic Youth record or something.”

The resulting five songs thread the gap between shoegaze and navelgaze, focused closely on the personal—relationships, regret, the fear of getting older. “Stealing From The Apothecary” has the pithy croon of an Owen song, but the fractured pop sensibilities of the Promise Ring, and lyrics that hit on the genre’s hallmark emotions (sadness, misanthropy, general malaise) with freshness and wit, down the last line: “If I’m being honest, I’m not trying to write a book / I’m just trying to change the subject.” “Seventeenth Century Artisan” is the EP’s most successful blend of shoegaze’s bombastic bent and emo’s keening and yearning. The gentle guitars beneath the opening lament “Feels like yesterday you told loved me,” belies the searing crescendo the song reaches in less than three minutes.

You can preorder An Exercise In Patience over at their Bandcamp page. In the meantime, stream the EP below ahead of its May 31st release.

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Keegan Bradford | @franziamom

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