Side A reviewed by: Jennifer L. Holland
Sleep to dream, wake in love. That is the collective theme around the first five songs of this truly exquisite album by Whimsical. The desire to be loved and to love, the vulnerability of true submission of the heart, and the pain of letting go of what isn’t meant to be.
Ever true to their name, Whimsical is framed by beautiful songwriting and stunning, multi-layered vocals that carry us away in sweet bliss. There are many times while listening to this album that I believe instrumentalist and songwriter Neil Burkdoll is channeling Robert Smith of The Cure. Just as Smith every now & then tried to step away from the darkness into brighter tones and a more upbeat tempo – for example, with “High” or “Elise” – the music still held on to an undertone of melancholy. In Whimsical’s case, Burkdoll’s counterpoint is most definitely lyricist VanderWoude who vocally could not be any brighter. With an upper range as fierce as Elizabeth Fraser, but as floating and pure as Harriet Wheeler, VanderWoude is the rare flower that always faces the sun, even withstanding the Winter. It is a sonic marriage made in Dream-Pop Heaven.
The album begins with “Love Me”, a lover’s plea to reach her beloved again: “Tell me, is this what you want? I need to know. Should I hold on? I am breaking down, I need you around…save me and this love we’ve found.” The guitar parts from the intro to the bridge perfectly express the sentiment, and in a way speak back to the questions being asked by the melody. The vocal part for the line “Should I hold on?” is a killer within itself. Although a somber topic, the fact that this a mid-tempo song reflects a hope that the outcome will be positive. As an introductory song, it certainly sets the stage for what love and misadventure is to come (to quote poet Lang Leav), and represents well Whimsical’s signature sound.
“Lost and Found” is a more delicate song that explores the sweet time in a friendship when romantic feelings start to emerge and you are unsure if the other person feels the same. The irregular timing of the drum part at the start of the song is a songwriting detail that is both noticed and appreciated ~ thank you Neil. A trademark component of VanderWoude’s vocals is multiple harmonic parts that are just impeccable. She tenderly wonders, “You’ve made me feel again, but we’re still just friends. Let’s take the chance and see where these feelings lead.” At that point, the tempo picks up as if the other person agreed and now an adventure has begun. The song sounds vulnerable, then excited. Isn’t that how it usually goes with new romance?
Something we don’t hear too often in the Shoegaze genre is a true head over heels love song, an outright declaration of adoration. “Surreal” is the song that will launch a thousand mixtapes exchanged between lovers. Everything about it reminds me of talking all night long flush in the cheeks, spontaneously jumping in the ocean together, making out in the back seat (even if you are no longer a teenager), or being held from behind at a Slowdive show. There is an upbeat, punk rock feel to this song that makes me want to dance around the room! “The magic when we kiss, I’ve never quite felt like this. And I am lost in your eyes, you make me feel so good inside. You put this smile on my face, I have to thank you. I’m so in love with you.” – Such a homage is worthy of few, so if someone dedicates this to you and the feeling is mutual, consider yourself the envy of many.
After the high above, things take a downward turn emotionally with “Flutter Echo”. Of the five songs, this is the darkest feeling. At the same time, this really showcases VanderWoude’s richer, lower tones which aren’t as often highlighted. With a guarded heart, she appeals: “Don’t give me hope if you cannot come through, you’ll break my heart in two. And don’t tell me things that you can’t make come true, that’s all I ask of you. I don’t know where this road is going to lead us. I don’t know.” The melody line and vocals are as gorgeous as they are sad. With great acknowledgment, the progression of this song is on point in every way. Had there been no lyrics at all, Burkdoll still would have conveyed this story on score alone. The instrumental parts search in longing, take a breath, collapse and eventually fade out.
Finally, we come to the “Beginning of the End” which is most definitely a resolve that a relationship has seen better days and now it is time to move on. To say this track is not as remarkable as the others is not to say it isn’t just as pretty. The chorus has some very interesting parts that perked my ears. It is merely out shadowed by the four above that are such incredible gems. Still, this song will speak to many hearts, as it does mine: “You want me to hold on? Please give me something to hold on to. You were everything to me, but I’ve done all I can do.” In truth, this song about transition is very accurately placed as a transition song to the second part of the album.
Sleep to dream…wake to love this beautiful, reflective, and much anticipated album! Bravo Whimsical!
Side B reviewed by: Dailily Alvarez
Sleep to Dream is nothing short of a beautiful compilation of time travel via sonic virtu. Each track secluded me in a state of nostalgic bliss (especially “Glow“). Krissy Vanderwoude’s vocals descended onto my ears like a blanket of wishes. Imagine the wisps of the dandelion seeds, floating around on a warm, breezy day. Now take that image and focus on the backdrop of the sky, and you have the wall of the reverberated guitars, melodic bass, and drums of Neil Burkdoll and company.
Given the time that was taken to produce this album, it would be an insult to call it sophomoric. That all of this work was salvaged and revived (good eye in finding that hard drive, Neil), and at a time when shoegaze and dream pop have re-emerged, is a sign that Whimsical are back—and all grown up. That is not to say so in some cliche way, it is in a way where a band evolves and holds onto its dream, its sonic identity. This is what gives Sleep to Dream the element of transcendence. The band stayed true to its sound, the same one that placed (at least, in my mind), “Setting Suns and Semi-Circles” in a unique place in time that bridges what seemed then as the end of shoegaze with the dreamy alternative rock sound of the 90s (i.e., The Cranberries and The Sundays), to the indie rock variety of the early 21st century. As a kid (read: teen) of the waning 90s, this album overwhelmed me with a comforting nostalgia. Could be the revival of a genre. Could be the return of a familiar sound, in particular.
This is where “Glow” comes in. It starts off with a distorted riff that would be familiar to those ears that also enjoy skater rock, which is usually some branch of post-punk, and, if you are like me, watch the X-Games just for those tunes. The lead guitar is reminiscent of 90s alternative rock, as wells as the bass line and drums. The staccato picking produces delayed, dancing, reverberated notes. It is the refrain and bridge that bring us back home, into the shoegaze/dreampop stratosphere, with a long-drawn feedback and an overdriven guitar (the wall of sound). Then Krissy chimes in, in harmony, and, again, blankets it all with angelic force. Sounds like an oxymoron? There are albums where vocals and instruments purposefully clash on the EQ’s, and it produces clamor instead anything audibly enjoyable (The Yeah Yeah Yeahs did this a lot). Not this one. Krissy’s voice is like a harmonic net, and the mixing here walks that fine line of clashing (or clipping) and perfect. It just works.
The album closes off with “Part of Me“, a beautiful song about loss that ends on a positive note (pun intended). Again, I do not know how Neil does it, but there is so much going on with the guitars, while Krissy’s voice becomes and stays amass, that the orchestration of it all is engrossing—with each part demanding attention. The beauty of this is that it sounds like they nailed four stages of grief in under five minutes. I had to listen to this a few times, and not only because it is a great album, but because the more I listen to it, the more it sounds like the labor of love.