Bright Smiles, Broken Hearts is the third album from US alt rockers Whimsical. I was first switched on to this band when I saw someone online describe them as shoegaze.
After a few listens to this album I can quite confidently say that there is much, much more to this band.
Whimsical are Krissy Vanderwoude and Neil Burkdoll. Krissy is the lyricist, melody maker and vocalist while Neil creates the soundscapes that complete the picture. What first made me question the shoegaze tag was how prominent Krissy’s voice and, from the heart, lyrics are above the heavenly music Neil creates behind her. It’s so refreshing hearing someone disrupt the genre and subvert expectations with such a simple change in approach.
The album kicks of with ‘The Exception’ awash with reverbed, fuzzy guitars reminiscent of Slowdive. Then Krissy comes in with her lighter than air voice full of regret one minute, hope the next. Neil makes great use of the quiet, loud, quiet dynamic in this song. Closing on stuttering, swooshing, phasing guitar we head into track 2.
‘I Always Dream of You’ opens with a confident stride. Never scared to take their time, Whimsical let this one build to a fuzzy climax before leaving us floating out of the song wanting to circle back and figure out how we got here again.
Krissy is not afraid to wear her heart on her sleeve. Nowhere is this more apparent than on ‘Fragile’. She begs to have her heart handled with care as it’s made of glass. This is mirrored in Neil’s fabulous guitar line which chimes along almost glasslike in response. The middle eight for this track is absolutely exceptional. Neil conjures up the sound of the nineties for me in his choice of looping guitar phrases.
‘Earth Angel’ is a slow burner with a glorious, ever changing, dynamic which absolutely glues you to the speakers. Guitars start and stop; drums explode and dip out again. Krissy is on top form here, using the quiet sections to the fullest. Laying her heart on the line. She writes such beautiful lyrics like “wrap your wings around me”. I think we could all identify with that.
‘This is Goodbye’ takes us to the halfway point on the album. Patently a song of a break up where someone has been unfaithful Krissy tells it like it is. “You told me lie after lie, this is goodbye”. This song takes a more eighties sounding production awash with synths and really clean guitars. It’s almost a palate cleanser before we dive into the second side.
‘Trust’ bursts onto the speakers reminiscent of Sugar or The Primitives. This is the opposite of the previous song where Krissy is rejoicing in her confidence she has for her friend or partner. I love the melody she creates against the stuttering chorus. This screams single to me.
Full speed we go into the next track, ‘Last Dance’. A song of missed opportunities and lost love. This song veers from the eighties wash of the verses into the grungy fuzz of the choruses. Really pacey and urgent the music may be but, Krissy won’t be hurried and her half time counter melody achieves a perfect balance between ballad and all out rocker.
“Don’t forget me” is the opening line of ‘Remember Me’. This track is full of surprises. False stops and weirdly effected drums to ecstatic guitar harmonies. All of this a perfect counterfoil to a wonderfully simple and straightforward lyric.
The album closes with the Lush like spooky guitars of ‘Solace’. This is the most abstract and challenging track on the whole album and really grabs your attention, pulling you in with its ever-ascending chords and cyclical melody.
As I said in my intro, Whimsical have taken shoegaze down a different path on Bright Smiles, Broken Hearts. In doing so they have created a sound all of their own, and what a dreamy sound it is.
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