Album Review: Reel Whirl by The Wimps
This review was originally published in Dust-Up Magazine on July 7, 2017 for the “RVA Bandcamp Of The Week” column.
The Wimps’ full length Reel Whirl opens up with a 67-second plea — “I cross my fingers / I hope you’ll stay” it begins, over top strong piano chords that scored many a mid-2000s hit song. After letting his plea out, lead vocalist Brent McCormick switches to vocally swaying as the snippet of a song relaxes into a breezy rhythm before being overlaid by the plea again and abruptly ending. It’s a brief, but impactful moment that perfectly sets the stage for Reel Whirl. Lyrically, it expresses what you can expect from the rest of the album in twenty-two words: yearning heartache and a reckless hope. Musically, it does the same, albeit in a much more subtle way as it reveals the fundamental aspect of the record: songs that careen between breezy and forceful, but remain as resilient and tenacious as the singer’s words. Because of that, this quartet need not hope the listener stays through the thirty-five minute runtime as the opening track pleads… because anyone listening would be a fool not to.
There is a laid-back surf appeal to these twelve songs, backed by a strong understanding of ’60s pop sensibility, but don’t let that muddy their clear musical message. These are not songs that cash in on a revivalist trend, nor are they meandering compositions like you may find from other surf/bedroom rock acts like Real Estate. The songs here have clear goals and work towards them, whether it’s patiently building a tepid rhythm (“My Love Is Real“) or defiantly shuffling around (“You Make Me Sick“). Honing in on intriguing phrases and strong lyrical refrains also bolsters this record, with songs boasting titles like “Hydrangea Stranger” and “Teapot Astronaut” and some lines playing out like “Hello my destroyer, paranoia, sequoia / Branch off you before you / Become my heart’s employer.”
What’s even more impressive about these songs is The Wimps’ ability to shift between tongue-in-cheek and sincere declarations. Near the end of Reel Whirl, they insert a terse ode to those patiently awaiting a reply on their smartphone (“Sent Message“), while earlier in the record, they proudly declare that their love is due a celestial body (“You Deserve The Moon“). These moments show the band’s willingness to portray both sides of modern heartache, comically detached and hopelessly smitten, but more importantly, it shows how dynamic they are, as they pull of both in convincing fashions, even if one is only twenty seconds long.
At times, you may think there’s no stand-out track on this record. The sum is better than its parts some might say, which is not a detriment at all — remember that some of the best records this decade have been the same way like Peace’s debut record In Love. But with songs this patiently constructed and dutifully executed, it’s hard not to pick out a favorite, one most will eventually settle on as “Woozy Woo,” a song that is also a sum that’s better than its parts. It’s a well-seasoned groove with just enough auxiliary parts to make a melody shine, but not enough that it distracts you from the swaying euphoria. And it’s not just the musical bliss it brings across in four minutes — the song also contains some of the record’s strongest lyrical moments. “I remember the way you looked at me / like I was a hieroglyph / like I was a rubix cube / And I twisted under your gaze until I was like new.” Catchy yet incisive, all in a single verse. You may not know where the phrase woozy woo comes from at the end of the song, but you know exactly what singer Brent McCormick is talking about.
And speaking of Brent McCormick, his vocals — tinged with a sense of Jake Bugg, but also more realized, more polished, and more pliant — add a heightened sense of awareness to the record. His voice stops each song from carelessly washing over you, instead making sure that its message is clear and his words heard. But let’s also not forget the singular entity each instrument has molded into to create these sprightly rhythms and harmonies. There are plenty of moments for the guitar or drums or even bass to bogart the spotlight, but each takes five steps back as they all focus on giving air to their floating compositions. As said before, the sum is better than its parts here, and that sum is a wonderful collection of twelve songs dutifully dictating heartache and how to cope, while hypnotizing its listener with an infectious and glorious wave of music.