Graded on a Curve: Whimsical, Melt

Melt is the latest album, indeed the fourth full-length effort, from Whimsical, the Dyer, Indiana-based shoegaze-dream pop three piece that hit the scene around the turn of the millennium, released a record, then took a long break that ended roughly five years back. Rather than pushing style boundaries outward and forward, across nine tracks, Whimsical maintains a sturdy balance of genre rudiments and inspired, energetic execution. However, there are a few pleasant surprises. Co-released by Shelflife Records in the USA and Through Love Records in Europe, the vinyl, CD and digital is out now.

Whimsical formed in the late 1990s and released their debut record Setting Suns are Semi-Circles on CD in 2000 via Seraph Productions, Ltd. While working on a follow-up, the band ceased operating as an active entity, but then roared back to life to finish that album, Sleep to Dream, which came out on LP/ CD/ DL in 2017 through the Saint Marie label.

After completing that set, Whimsical kept at it and self-released another multi-format full-length, Bright Smiles & Broken Hearts, in 2019. Interestingly, Sleep to Dream was completed by a five-piece configuration, featuring three members from the debut, that slimmed down for the third record to a core trio, with some assistance on guitar.

And now on Melt, Whimsical has tightened to a duo of Neil Burkdool, who handles the music and production, and Krissy Vanderwoude, who sings and brings the lyrics. Both were in the band for Setting Suns are Semi-Circles, so this truncation to a dual role registers as a continuation with focus and purpose, particularly as opener “Rewind” adds electronic rhythms (an facet that figured on their debut).

But more importantly, the guitar in “Rewind” is loud and layered, with a standard drum kit providing the main forward thrust, as Vanderwoude’s vocals are pretty, at times achily so, and deftly blending the ethereal and the urgent. Instead of downshifting, the next cut “Gravity” quickens the pace even more but with smooth shifts in tempo, string raucousness and multitracked vocals.

“Take All of Me” does slow down the scheme and begins with a mildly ’80s Brit Alternative vibe before the waves of guitar come rolling in and the cut builds up to a powerful crescendo. But it’s the singing that really solidifies Melt as a post-4AD proposition. Something similar happens in “Crash and Burn,” with Vanderwoude’s voice lending cohesiveness to the album as the song enters a zone of rock heaviness that momentarily brought to mind the early Afghan Whigs.

But then “Just a Dream” redirects into a repeated guitar figure that’s more than slightly reminiscent of Luna’s version of Beat Happening’s “Indian Summer,” though this scenario quickly dissipates as an instrumental power boot arrives, and bringing with it a few Cure-like lines on the guitar. Those motions toward heaviness are appreciated, but it’s really the drifting thickness-sweetness combo (i.e. classique shoegaze-dream pop) of “Searching,” and another injection of electronic rhythm mid-way through the track, that delivers Melt a highlight on side two.

Those mechanical beats are integral to “Quicksand,” the record’s most ambitious selection and one that is likely to endure as the strongest cut on the record. It’s loaded with textures moving beyond the band’s acknowledged template, with tones resonating and swirling around Vanderwoude as she hits a lofty dream pop plateau.

“Feather” is a likeable mingling of pop melancholia and slow surges of controlled distortion that brings Melt to a close. Whimsical’s overall adherence to style norms (“Quicksand” being the closest exception) might keep the album from climbing into the shoegaze-dream pop’s top tier, but Burkdool and Vanderwoude have gotten the sound down pat, and there are songs underneath the textures.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B+

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