“Brood-gaze” is exactly what it sounds like: moody shoegaze informed by a constellation of legendary bands like Cocteau Twins, Joy Division, and X. Havania Whaal is the self-described “brood-gaze” project of three busy Portland musicians: drummer Noelle Magia (Plastic Weather, Smoke Rings), guitarist Paul Billy Sobiech (Fine Pets), and bassist Caroline Jackson (Lubec). This week, they’re releasing their third album, Elaborate Minor Crisis, on Seattle’s Youth Riot Records.
Since forming in 2012, Havania Whaal have put out two records, most recently 2015’s 13 A.D., a concept album about their 2014 East Coast tour “told through the allegory of The Wizard of Oz.” They take theatrical cues from Of Montreal—Magia says she started her first band a few days after seeing them live—and stage performances with fake blood, glitter, and (now retired) giant papier-mâché heads.
For the Elaborate Minor Crisis release show, there’ll be some new papier-mâché surprises and burlesque acts from Wanda Bones, Rummy Rose, and Baby LeStrange sprinkled throughout their set. Reflecting on how many hours they’ve spent preparing, Magia jokes, “Man, why can’t we just be in a normal band that just puts out an album and doesn’t need any papier-mâché involved?”
But it’s a feat worth celebrating, because on Elaborate Minor Crisis, Havania Whaal sounds more confident than ever. All three members contributed to the songwriting, and their individual talents glow throughout its 10 tracks, which range from hazy shoegaze (“Bay of Pigs”) to mathy post-punk (“Blowtorch”) to sunny noise-pop (“The Reverend”). Magia’s percussive attack is calculated chaos, Sobiech’s steely guitar riffs shape-shift with every song, and Jackson holds everything together with steady bass lines and backing vocals.
They got a major assist from violinist Melody Wilbrecht, whose contributions make for some of the best moments of Elaborate Minor Crisis. On the standout track “Supermoon,” Wilbrecht’s instrument slices through fuzzy noise like it’s whittling an ice sculpture masterpiece.
It’s hard to understand the lyrics—they’re buried under a lot of distortion—but Magia says most were written after she broke up with a toxic partner. “It’s basically processing being in an abusive relationship,” she says. “It’s definitely a message I want to put out there, because at the time I was going through it and getting out of it, I felt really fucking alone.... That’s what the song ‘Undercover’ is about—how [abusers] dismantle all your defenses.”
It’s the album’s eerie centerpiece, with skittering percussion, murky bass lines, screeching violin, and hissing guitar oozing nervous energy. Tempos surge and retreat like an eel lurking in the shadows, waiting to strike.
Magia says she wrote the prophetic opening track, “Croissant,” after having a bad dream about Donald Trump before he’d even entered the primaries. She thought it’d be dated by the time they released the album—no one had any idea he’d go on to win the 2016 presidential election. “At the time, it wasn’t even that political,” Jackson says.
“I feel like a bad witch that brought this upon us, because I wrote this fucking song,” Magia quips.
Though the Elaborate Minor Crisis release show will be Jackson’s last with Havania Whaal, after recording the album they added a second guitarist, Basil Stevens (Radler, Young Elvis). It’s a bittersweet moment for the still-evolving band.
“I call her the Havania Whaal doula,” Magia says of Jackson. “Paul and I see this band as our child—I’m in a band that’s his vision, he’s in Plastic Weather, which is my vision, and then this is us together. The people we invite [to play with us], it’s like you’re helping us raise our child.”