Whimsical by name and nature, the US band stand proudly at the top of their game with another delightfully gazey dream pop record: Melt has the perfect blend of nostalgia and noise drenched all over it for us to dig into.
Whimsical began life back in 1999 – a creative shoegaze/pop outfit consisting of, among others, Neil Burkdoll and Krissy Vanderwoude. The quintet released their debut (Setting Suns are Semi-Circles) at the turn of the millennium, enjoying success until the venture halted and its members parted ways in 2005.
Fast forward a decade and, fortunately for us, the project stirred back into life, with Burkdoll and Vanderwoude acting henceforth as a two-fold driving force behind their accessibly light and tight sound – a dreamy pop rock of sorts. Their debut was reissued in 2016, followed by a long-awaited 2017 sophomore record that had sat dormant and unfinished for 13 years.
Burkdoll and Vanderwoude now reprise their roles at the helm of music/production and lyrics/vocals respectively, with fourth album Melt forming Whimsical‘s second release as a duo, after 2019’s Bright Smiles & Broken Hearts. It sees them go from strength to strength and retains the essential elements that made the previous three records so enjoyable, while adding a slightly punicher edge in moments. If anything, the streamlining of membership across the years explains the marked sense of cohesion across this new record and how its various components tie together so effortlessly.
With nine songs running at a fraction under 43 minutes, Melt wastes no time in getting down to business. “Rewind” is an aptly named opener, catapulting us back to the late ’90s/early ’00s with a gloriously jaunty tune that rejuvenates the era’s delectable tendency to blend dreamy pop compositions with modest bites of radio rock. This balance continues throughout Melt, as Whimsical offset easy-listening melodies with electronic flourishes that float in and out of perception, tucked neatly between relatively crunchy rhythm sections and wandering lead guitar lines.
“Take All of Me” and “Melting Hearts” see multiple vocal parts converge above layers of pad and cleaner guitar, driven across altogether more celestial terrain – each with mild crescendos that boost their flickering energy. By contrast, single “Crash and Burn” is the paciest of the roster and marks the midway point of the LP, bidding the brief, ethereal calm farewell in order to hurtle us back towards terra firma with its vivacious tempo. Thankfully, ‘crash and burn’ is only a namesake and not a descriptor of the track’s quality.
There are more moderately paced numbers – such as “Just a Dream”, “Searching”, and “Quicksand” – which keep the textured atmospheres that populate the rest of the record. “Searching” is a particularly drawn-out, sweetly sung number, also generously lathered in reverberation before a more subtly digitised second half brings an added crispness to the percussion. At the other end, “Quicksand” remains as easy-going as other tracks, mostly dispensing with guitar in favour of synths that carry surprisingly dramatic undertones at points.
Of course, the instrumentals of Burkdoll are only part of the winning formula at play here. Vanderwoude’s polished, at times pensive vocals ring out above the ethereal music beneath. Her tuneful voice drifts outwards from the mix, harmonically partnering with the rich and diverse canvas of chords and contextual fragments that envelope her endearingly personal yet conversational lyrics over the course of Melt‘s runtime.
The harmonies scattered throughout also highlight Vanderwoude’s range and warmth, with lulling melody patterns serving as a wonderful vehicle for tracks like “Gravity” and “Feather” to enrich the album’s appeal through emotionally tinged lyrical themes. No topic covered seems trite or cheesy – arguably a risk when combining ‘classic’ sounds with perspectives such as these – but rather her narratives of trust, regret, love, doubt, hope, and all else in between prevail as fitting, easily digested accompaniment to the instrumentals.
The crucial factor in all of this is that everything resolves satisfactorily. Whatever direction Whimsical journey in, all the indicators of a successful concoction are there: the duet between the digital and the physical, big choruses, glistening production – facets of a gleaming, comprehensive record from a duo with plenty of musical mileage still in them.
Structurally, there are no surprises: by the end of “Rewind”, you’ll have a fairly concrete idea of what the rest of Melt has in store. It remains that way until “Feather” closes out with strummed chords that echo, filling spaces between lambent drums. Is the lack of surprise a bad thing? Not necessarily. Sometimes we may crave music to challenge and broaden our palate; other times, what you want is familiarity, good vibes, and a versatile soundtrack. Depending on your current tastes, Melt is a potent wash of technicolour haze that fits either scenario comfortably.
Where Whimsical truly succeed is in utilising great songwriting to capture textures, tones, and tunes that evoke reminiscence while still sporting a refreshing, modern-day relevance and appeal. Melt doesn’t push the envelope, but then, it doesn’t need to; the duo do what they do incredibly well. If you’re an existing fan, Whimsical welcome you back with open arms. If gazey, pop rock soundscapes aren’t your usual taste, I can think of few better records to soundtrack your first foray into their nostalgic embrace than Melt.