First drop the needle on Sleep to Dream, the long-awaited return from Whimsical, you’d get the impression you’ve received the pre-mastered version. It’s the sound of the band practice down the hall, barely heard through three walls, and over the street noise. You’ve been had. This opening interlude is just the setup for the sonic bust-out, almost a metaphor for a long-buried and unheard album finally bursting forth with a 21st century sheen. Buried guitar squall emerges into cascading guitar waves. Guitarist Neil Burkdoll intertwines these guitar waves with another layer of glossy filigree, as suddenly multiple guitar lines are having a conversation from different sonic angles. Vocalist Krissy Vanderwoude overlays the proceedings with a crisp and clear-eyed vocal that comes off as both experienced and optimistic.
Track Two, “Lost and Found” opens with a guitar coda that seems almost immediately familiar (though this reviewer can’t for the life of him draw its parallel). But this familiarity branches off into new colors and directions, all founded on a bedrock guitar churn, as you’re led into unfamiliar but comfortable territory.
By the time you get to the LP’s third track, “Surreal”, new sonic vistas have opened up. You can no longer simply assume direct references. There’s some Lush here, a dash of Robin Guthrie, even a bit of late 80’s twee pop guitar work, but the distillation of all these only reinforces Whimsical’s unique sonic imprint. This combination of rhythm, guitar and vocal is now become instantly recognizable as Whimsical. The song structures all put the “pop” back in “dream pop”: these are song-centric dream pop confections carefully crafted by adults.
It’s tempting to go through a track-by-track dissection, but this is one of those albums you simply fall into. If the assembled palette hasn’t grabbed you by track three, this brand is not for you. The strength of Whimsical is in the songs and the arrangements, carefully balanced, hauntingly lovely.
The foundation for all these songs has existed for over 15 years, with recorded bits lying dormant on a lost hard drive for all that time. At the time of first recording, Whimsical consisted of Krissy Vanderwoude (vox), Neil Burkdoll (guitar, sounds), Mark Milliron (guitar), Brian Booher (bass), and Andy Muntean (drums). Neil later added keyboard flourishes, re-edited drums based on today’s music software technology, and produced a final packaged presentation. Focused, polished, re-recorded and overdubbed, the songs on Sleep to Dream all have the freshness of now. Which is only unfortunate for guitarist Neil Burkdoll, as he’s recently admitted in an interview that he doesn’t listen to new music. To the rest of us, this is the new music. To paraphrase Mick Jagger, we know it’s not rock and roll, but we love it.
Sleep to Dream releases 24 February on Saint Marie Records (order link here). Follow Whimsical on Twitter and Facebook, and get in on the ground floor… fifteen years later. Don’t worry, in this case no one will judge.