A Review of Whimsical: Bright Smiles, Broken Hearts (Self Release, 2019)
Whimsical’s first album in three years, Bright Smiles, Broken Hearts has now been released into the world and it’s another perfectly executed dreampop gem that has Vanderwoude’s signature open and vulnerable lyrics and vocals. Although there is still that brightness to their compositions, the album has an uneasy melancholiness that we are all familiar regarding relationships. This is what I would call an emotionally deep album that would be the soundtrack to a breakup or in those moments of doubt. What makes it that much more wonderful is that it is bright and airy, making a container for the more difficult content mesmerizing.
“The Exception” begins with dreamy, ethereal guitar and then kicks in with robust percussion before fading into the background, leaving space for Vanderwoude’s vocals to come to the fore. The song is about betrayal and abuse, to be frank, and it’s a hard listen on that level, especially if you know Vanderwoude personally. But this is open, personal, and, at the end of the day, exposure is what makes a great album. The ending of this first track has this epic swirling tone that really passes the torch to the rest of the record and sets the tone for what’s to follow. “I Always Dream of You” has Vanderwoude dreaming of the person who she should be with via miracles, daydreams, and the hope for connection or healing. “Fragile” injects a little electronica and then the guitars burst on the scene with a reflective Vanderwoude coming back down to earth with the honestly contained in the current relationship she is continually reflecting on through each track.
“Earth Angel” has this great vocal affect and introduces some acoustic guitar before giving way to the band’s signature sound. Burkdoll’s guitar work is clearly at it’s best throughout the album but this track seems to especially shine with his overlays and particular tonal choices. Burkdoll’s arrangements throughout the album are stellar and his innovation on their sound continues into “This is Goodbye”. Slow and melancholy, the track is bare and beautifully executed. “This is Goodbye” is poignant, open, and incredibly bold. “Trust” changes the game, as if two new characters have entered the scene. Going from betrayal to trust, as the title suggests, creates an interesting juxtaposition in the middle of the album. In many ways, the “Trust” seems like a daydream or a wish that the relationship told over the course of the album was a certain way.
Turning up the energy, “Last Dance” also turns up the angst and anger with Burkdoll demonstrating his guitar prowess here with an epic guitar solo. This should be one of the singles from the album for sure. “Remember Me” holds nostalgia in its tones and lyrics. A looking forward to separation but with the thought of remembrance and, quite frankly, one with a bit of a bitter edge. “Solace” is the finale to the album and what a finale it is. I must say, I think this is the best concluding track to an album I’ve ever heard. Dreamy, spacious, ethereal, and deeply moving. This track compliments Vanderwoude’s vocals in such a magical way, it’s difficult to explain. It’s almost ambient and that is what draws me so effortlessly to it. “Solace” encapsulates all the emotions of this album into one phenomenal finale. Bravo, Whimiscal, Bravo!
Bright Smiles, Broken Hearts is Whimsical’s third full-length outing and it is a tremendously open and vulnerable piece of work. Burkdoll’s arrangements are mature and perfectly composed as they wrap themselves around Vanderwoude’s hypnotic vocals. As always, a Whimsical album is one to look forward to and this not only does not disappoint but also moves their sound forward with experimental flourishes and real, deeply personal vocals.
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