Whimsical is an early North American dreampop, shoegaze band that released its first album in 2000 entitled Setting Suns are Semi-Circles. Their follow-up was 90% done when the band broke up and people went their separate ways. This follow-up is now coming out on Saint Marie Records and is entitled Sleep to Dream. The band, at the time of the initial recording, consisted of Krissy Vanderwoude (vocals), Neil Burkdoll (Guitar, Sounds), Mark Milliron (Guitar), Brian Booher (bass), and Andy Muntean (drums). As far as the current line-up is concerned, Vanderwoude and Burkdoll remain and have helped to get the tracks together, mixed, and completed for the final release of a record that may have never seen the light of day. It’s a wonderful gift to the world that SMR has stepped up to the plate to make this album available to the world. Vanderwoude’s vocal prowess hypnotizes as Burkdoll, Milliron, Booher, and Muntean construct musical bedding as a reflection of the relational content of the lyrics. Love, longing, relational dysfunction, and trust all circulate in Vanderwoude’s sultry lyrical musings. The album is a glimmer of light in what can be a generally dark world, both resplendent and very welcome.
“Love Me” begins Sleep to Dream with the band muted and then exploding into the speakers with glistening guitars, medium tempo drums, and perfectly pocketed bass. Vanderwoude instantly hypnotizes as her lush vocals lay over the dreampop arrangement as she sings,
Is that what you want?
I need to know
Should I hold on?
I feel worlds apart
Reveal inside your heart
Let me into your mind
This initial track really sets up the emotional mood of the album and leads into the more pensive “Lost and Found”. Guitars strum brightly, with touches of reverb and plodding bass. The percussion is subtle, never overpowering the overall ecstatic feel of the composition. The theme of loving another and the potential for mistakes continues, with longing at the emotive center. The bridge on this track is exceptional as it ups the tempo, with everyone in the band speeding up and playing a bouncing sort of rhythm. “Surreal” evokes sunny days and the comfort of summer sun on one’s face. The guitars shimmer as the drums and bass bounce about in perfect time. The arrangement of “Surreal” also reflects the vertigo of love, that all powerful aphrodisiac that envelops and then consumes one in ecstasy.
“Flutter Echo” feels like a Slowdive song at the beginning and then moves into a more melancholy tone than “Surreal”. If anything, the listener is brought on an emotional rollercoaster. Vanderwoude sings “Don’t give me hope if you can’t come through. You’ll break my heart in two.” The guitars swirl about in the mix as Booher lays down perfectly chosen bass lines that glue the band together along with subtle, but intricate, drum work by Muntean. “Beginning of the End” is, as the title suggests, another tumultuous set of lyrics with heartbreak at the core. The tone is melancholy as the clockwork guitars are picked in time, iridescent in the darkest moments of relational shutdown. Muntean’s work here with the open high-hat adds a brilliant high tone to the mix while Booher ads post-punk style bass lines.
“I Thought of You” returns to the brighter side of love with the idea of love at first sight. A guitar is strummed in time with the percussion at a medium tempo while a bright melody is picked on another guitar. “I Thought of You” is a brief poppy piece that sits at the center of the album and leads into “Leap of Faith”. “Leap” is more abstract lyrically and moves into minor chords as Vanderwoude delivers bright, contrasting vocals. This track is particularly patient and, for me, recalls the slower, more pensive side of blisspop that plays on the borders of post-punk with its tonal qualities and bass work. “Glow” is bass heavy with intricate melodies playing off one another between guitars. The guitar tones are particularly interesting, with varying moments of reverb, modulation, delay, and slight fuzz.
“Sleep to Dream”, the titular track, is one of the longer compositions and is a meandering piece with an almost stream of consciousness series of lyrics that evoke the comforts of closeness or, perhaps, the consoling of a child by a parent. Musically, the tempo has a swaying feel, maybe evoking rocking a child to sleep. The tones in the piece are warm and inviting with Vanderwoude providing her soaring lyrics as encouragement as she spins here ethereal tale of comfort and hope. “Anchor” has reverb drenched guitar and heavy delay up front and the bass and guitar pound out a dense wall of sound that Vanderwoude’s vocals float through. It’s a mid-tempo tune with dreamy, hypnotic vocals and an addictive beat. “Anchor” leads into the finale, which is “Part of Me”, the longest track on the album. It begins with dreamy, delay-heavy guitar that leads into reverb-heavy vocals that are drawn-out, ethereal, and ghostly. There is a longing here and a depressive atmosphere both in the guitar tones, rhythmic ideas, and the lyrical melody. Vanderwoude sings,
I will let go
I will break away
From this pain
The album ends on a down note in terms of the relational themes found within it but really leaves the listener wanting more Whimsical music once the music fades.
Whimsical and Saint Marie Records have blessed music fans with what might have been a digital only album or, perhaps, never released at all. As it is, we all get to hear this amazing album on vinyl and CD. Vanderwoude, Burkdoll, Milliron, Booher, and Muntean have crafted eleven bliss-pop tracks that tantalize one’s aural perception. Moving between melancholy and happiness, the emotional journey Sleep to Dream depicts really is one that moves through the real experiences of long-term relationships, both with all their joy and difficulties. This album is also a piece of early North American dreampop/shoegaze history and should be in anyone’s collection who loves both genres. Sleep to Dream comes out February 24th! Pick up a copy of the colored vinyl while they last!