Whimsical’s third full length album, “Bright Smiles & Broken Hearts”, is absolutely everything you wanted it to be based on past repertoire (beautiful songwriting/heartfelt lyrics), and everything you didn’t know you needed from them NOW. Bigger production, even deeper lyrics, larger hooks, fuller feels ~ enhancements that take their already stellar dreamgaze sound to another level.
What I have come to appreciate from musician/songwriter Neil Burkdoll is his keen melodic interpretation of the emotional content of Krissy Vanderwoude’s lyrics. In transposing a feeling to sound, that sonic manifestation allows the listener to truly FEEL every part of the song. If the vocal tracks were removed, you could still come away with the sentimental theme of the song from Burkdoll’s use of tempo, rhythm, instrumentation, dynamics, texture and form. Vanderwoude is a true vocalist in every sense of the word. Her pristine soprano and ear for precision harmonies are as gorgeous as they are flawless. Lyrically, she bares her soul on this album. Between both of their talents for sound and words, this is how Whimsical’s music “speaks” to us viscerally. And this album is FULL of songs reaching for the depths of our hearts, both full and broken:
- The Exception
Opening track “The Exception” begins with a heavy comedown of guitars, followed by a shadow of insecurity from approaching love again after great pain. Sung regretfully, “I’ve given so many chances to the wrong ones, I’ve wasted so much time in the wrong place, I’ve lost so many days”. Detailing all the ways in which love has wounded: “‘I’m scarred, I’ve been bruised, I’ve been broken”. Yet the most powerful, built-up parts of the song instrumentally are aligned with the emotional plea, “Let this be the exception.” There is hope that love will be given a second chance, in spite of its prior damage.
- I Always Dream of You
“I Always Dream of You” pays homage to the lovely pre-occupation of thinking of a romantic interest both day and night. Fluttering guitars lull us into and out of a dream-like state, while Vanderwoude’s voice serenades us: “Close your eyes, try to meet me there. We can fly so high in this atmosphere of love.” You won’t want to wake up from this place of bliss, washed with glittering distortion.
On this mid-tempo track, “Fragile” expresses the vulnerability of opening up to someone who is more guarded and then feeling “so exposed”. Guitars skim delicately around & above the vocal parts, as if showing caution to their meaning: “My heart breaks easy because it falls so hard. Fragile, handle with care. Or my heart of glass will shatter everywhere.” Some great post-punk vibes ensue, a terrific underlying characteristic of this band. Ending, “I just can’t figure you out, and it fills me with doubt.”
- Earth Angel
“Earth Angel” begins with an almost prayer-like acoustic chant to Heaven to send down help, then gritty guitar fireworks blow up the sky. The harmonic part entering the chorus is otherworldly; those five words alone (“Wrap your wings around me”) are their very own hymn. There is some incredible contrast & movement in this song between the driving tempo of the music and the celestial tone of the vocals.
- This is Goodbye
Certainly, “This is Goodbye” had to be difficult to write, sing and express without falling apart. The melancholy tone expresses the anguish of betrayal, and wanting so badly for that person to come clean in the end. The heartbreaking yet beautiful bridge is a release, a calling out, a final resolve: “All I needed was the truth from you, but you looked me in the eye and lied, lie after lie, so this is goodbye.” The instruments collapse upon themselves in the outro, much like the breakdown of this relationship.
Coming off of the last track, “Trust” is a recovery song with a totally opposite feel! After being betrayed, it’s hard not to put the next person through a lot of questioning. In this song, assurances of reliability and honesty make it so that need is unnecessary. The bright sound is a reflection of that inner peace (“Thank you for showing me I can trust you”; the fast tempo a nod to moving forward, happily (“How good it feels”).
- Last Dance
Burkdoll sought inspiration from the “big studio production” style of some of his favorite 90s bands. From the get go, “Last Dance” blasts off with heavy hooks/power chords waxing nostalgia. This track is the closest thing to an alt-grunge song a dreampop band could pull off, and they beyond nail it! Here we meet another side of Vanderwoude, who is not messing around anymore: “You think you have her right where you want her, oh silly little boy she is not your toy! It’s time for a real man. It was my mistake to ever stay.” Hard-pressed to find many self-empowering songs within this genre. Volume up! INSTANT ANTHEM!!
- Remember Me
Ultimately, “Remember Me” is a song about forgiveness, though perhaps there are no apologies. Equally gorgeous and devastating at the same time, this bittersweet song represents a form of closure that one may need to give themself. As with this entire album, these are highly personal lyrics (whether they are true or not), and Vanderwoude is brave enough to let others connect with her in this way. Once again, Burkdoll does amazing as a songwriter matching the intensity of this difficult theme with some very powerful chord progressions. To be played when the worst is over, looking back at what once existed, and choosing to honor what was good instead of mourning the reason it wasn’t meant to last.
The closing track is a trance-like meditation that sounds like swimming with the stars. The song feels like it is rising up, instruments used sparingly yet effectively, slowly being transported up to the sky. Alas, it is “Time to dream.”
The album “Bright Smiles & Broken Hearts” by Whimsical was self-released on November 5, 2019.
CD and Digital: https://whimsical1.bandcamp.com/album/bright-smiles-broken-hearts
Vinyl: Qrates crowfunding project Whimsical
For those obsessed with: Slowdive, The Autumns, The Sundays, Velour100, The Cure, Sixpence None the Richer
Current/Former Projects: The Churchhill Garden, Loveblind, Dirty Dead, Fatalist, P.O.O.R.