Wake Up To Dreamland (Mannheim Worldwide)
by Scott Deckman
Wonderful, of Seattle, Washington, are an anachronism shot into the future, spreading good vibes and love to us in spaces inner, cyber and real. Their second full-length record, Wake Up To Dreamland, features singing, and lots of it: Gorgeous harmonies and strong leads, owing as much to the Four Freshman and other-type quartets as the Beach Boys sans acid. Hallucinogens or not, these boys sound like they’re on a spiritual high.
On first listen though, some of this seems a bit ridiculous. Take opener “Annabelle” for instance. You listen, thinking, what decade is this? But as the record builds momentum, you get over your unfound aural prejudice, and a wide variety of soothing sounds, both man-made and synthetic: Lush piano, percussion, light, airy emoluments – even wind chimes (plus the type of harmonies they don’t teach at Rock’n’Roll High School) transport you into a realm other than worldly.
Worse yet, you wake up humming some of these melodies and choruses.
The first number on the self-produced album to really grab you is “Gimme All The Love You Can.” Like everything else on Wake Up To Dreamland, this song is well-tended and fussed over. Along with an engaging piano-driven melody and what sounds like wind chimes (though it may be something else), the tune features an ethereal, almost funky lead vocal by Noah Star Weaver. Three of the four group members have at least one lead turn on the record, but as always, the harmonies dominate and damned if they don’t all sound pretty much alike.
Next up is “Marching Through The Gates,” and it sounds as triumphant and majestic as you would expect, but Wonderful thought it proper to throw in some dreamy, lullaby verses amid the grandeur, possibly thinking it wise to connect to the mere human in each of us. After all, the celestial can be a heavy load. A bit front-loaded, the best four songs on Wake Up To Dreamland are among the first six tracks out of 12 total.
Album highlight “Rainbow Colors” features sing-along energy reminiscent of Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping.” It’s a guilty pleasure right up there with something off The Wildhearts Must Be Destroyed. After slowing down and distorting the tape at song’s beginning, the band brings the piano doubled-up so it sounds like xylophones. In unison, the boys sing: “You, whose day it is, make it beautiful!/You, whose day it is, make it beautiful!/Get out your rainbow colors!/Get out your rainbow colors!/So it will be beautiful!/So it will be beautiful!”
Believe me, I know, sitting at your computer reading this you’re probably thinking I have a screw loose, or at best, that you’re missing something with lyrics this treacly. But the power of Wonderful at their apogee is they not only get away with the cringe-worthy, but somehow exalt it. That’s quite a feat.
“Only Ocean” is another winner, a more contemplative meditation on life. This is a deep, enigmatic song, and so too is the band on their Myspace page, which states the record “was recorded over the last four years in various wilderness cabins throughout the Northwest.” Further, they list nature itself (and “you and me”) as the record’s influences, stating that it sounds like “every thunderous fanfare of love.”
Okay, maybe they are on drugs.
Unlike the Four Freshman of old, Wonderful is able to take advantage of technology that that group’s original lineup could only dream of (believe it or not, a version of that a cappella group is still around), and they do, processing much of what they produce through Pro-Tools and a few other programs. But it’s done with taste and for the benefit of the music, which is how to use technology. In fact, studio wizardry is as big a part of their sound as soaring vocals. The band has an alter ego, dance-pop act U.S.E (for whatever it’s worth, there’s no period after the “E”). And no, they don’t exactly remind one of Slayer or King Diamond, either.
The music on Wake Up To Dreamland is warm, dreamy, and oddly psychedelic, something Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros or MGMT might listen to in the van. But the vibe here is extremely positive, almost Christian, or what passes for Christianity in many liberal churches these days. It may be corny, but Wonderful sounds like they sincerely want to give you a hug and tell you it’s gonna get better, to hang in there, to put the gun or razor away.
This is original music that flirts with greatness at times, though its heavenly gaze can be a bit much. Fans of lush, triumphant singing amid a swirl of soothing noises, and people with an otherwise unfounded bright outlook on life may indeed call this whole set great. Picture The Brady Bunch kids on strong Kool-Aid, with Peter long-since grown into manhood. Maybe not banging Adrianne Curry manhood, but with whiskers and a driver’s license. (Well, now that they’ve separated, Christopher Knight isn’t likely banging her anymore, either, aside from breakup sex. There’s hope yet for you young suitors out there!) Speaking of The Brady Bunch, listen to “Sakura” and tell me parts of its melody doesn’t remind you of some of the music used during that show.
All you empirical, analytical sorts who are nonetheless moved by art (me) may hate yourself for believing in Wonderful’s impossibly optimistic view of the world, but on some days, as crazy as it seems, maybe it’s what we need… until complicated reality smacks us upside the head again.
Until then, get out your rainbow colors.