I love dark music, but sometimes it can be too much. Sometimes it can add to a destructive mood. Michael Whalen doesn’t make that kind of music, though. His music is more cathartic and more edifying in a very luxurious way. His new album Imaginary Trains released recently on April 22nd, and it feels like a wave of nourishment.
Michael is a prolific composer. He’s won Emmy awards and been nominated for Grammy awards, and he has written themes and music for dozens of television shows and advertisements. But, as I’ve come to understand about such careers, there is always a personal side: his own music for his own heart. Synth is his thing, as you can see in the picture, and he crafts his own tones instead of using the presets all the time.
For Imaginary Trains, like 2020’s visionary Sacred Spaces, this music is progressive electronic and ambient. There are hints of New Age sounds, I would say, but maybe less than on previous albums. No, this album feels slightly more grounded, even though it goes to some fantastical places. I have noticed very specific callbacks to Vangelis in a few tracks, and there is definitely a “city” and Blade Runner sort of sound to everything, without the cyberpunk (if that’s even possible).
This album, instead of being soaked in darkness and rain, is the other side of that coin. Imaginary Trains sweeps us away to the within and to the without and to the edge of consciousness at times. There are love themes, specifically love over distance and time, and other innate human emotions, and they feel transcribed onto places and transports. In some ways, it feels like Michael has given us concrete pictures and sounds of abstract ideas, and he does this very well and with what seems like ease.
Imaginary Trains is a relaxing album. It will make you feel like you are floating outside of your body. It’s like you can observe your own problems and anxieties from a third person perspective, or from a more “historian” point of view, one that lets you understand cause and effect without getting emotionally involved. Sometimes that perspective on yourself is helpful, and Michael’s music has a way of drawing me outside of myself like that. Perspective is everything.
This is a really, really good album. While I think I still like Sacred Spaces a little more, that may change with time. Imaginary Trains feels like it is split into two lopsided halves. The first seven tracks are the first part. I love the opening title track with its luscious Vangelis vibes and layered keys. There is so much going on, and everything therein is soothing and calming. “Across the World to Be With You” is a nostalgic, golden piece with memory and hope in its veins. “My Immortal Beloved” and “The Wayward Sun” feel like one work together for me; the former offering a delicate key-by-key melody, which then gives way to the latter and its potent Vangelis tones and feelings of eternity and ontology.
When the eighth track arrives, “The Journey to LightsEdge”, I think the album swells into masterpiece status. I love this song and its cosmic, enlightened ideas. The last few minutes, especially, are hypnotic. Yet, I like “Dream Together” even more. This piece has something of a melody that you might hear in an 80s soft rock ballad, maybe from Journey, let’s say. I love that about it. It is easy to follow and even easier to love. But as it progresses, Michael adds more layers of synth and rhythm, and it just gets better and better.
The last couple tracks are gorgeous. The effervescent “Until the Night is Over” is the longest track on the album, and I love how it draws me into its world and vision. Its gentle beat and subtle melody are always welcome sounds. The closer is “Distance”, and this song actually features vocals from Donna Lewis. I was taken aback when the vocals started on my first listen, but I really like how transcendent and spacious Donna’s voice is, and how it blends in seamlessly with the music. The song has a solid hook and it leaves me feeling, in a word, happy. Not many albums can do that.
Michael Whalen has such talent. I love when he loses himself in this ambient and electronic sound, too, where he seems most “himself” musically. These compositions are truly beautiful and uplifting, and for someone who listens to doom metal and melancholy music most of the time, this sort of record is a refreshment, a rejuvenator. It makes me feel like I can live this life, like I can succeed at anything. And that’s a powerful thing to possess.
Find Michael Whalen online: