True to its name, Michael Whalen’s new album Imaginary Trains takes the listener on a fantastic journey of the mind. It is a non-stop voyage dedicated to Whalen’s electronic inspirations such as Vangelis, Tangerine Dream, Keith Emerson (ELP), Mike Oldfield, Larry Fast/Synergy, Mark Isham and Kraftwerk – but rest assured, the Imaginary Trains are 100 % powered by Whalen’s one-of-a-kind melodic excellence.
Michael Whalen is a composer of over 650 television and film scores and thousands of advertising jingles. He has won two Emmy Awards. He is also a beloved artist in the ambient/New Age music field, and his piece I Have Loved You For A Thousand Lifetimes has been streamed over 38 million times on Spotify (see his full discography here). He recently released Future Shock (2021) and Like Rain Through My Hands (2021).
The title track lays the foundation for the album in less than 30 seconds. As Whalen’s train leaves the station, something seems like an undeniable truth for everything that follows; it is hypermodern and fresh, but riding with us in the train carriage are Whalen’s electronic inspirations mentioned above. The Vangelis-like lead instrument, which is used quite frequently throughout, cuts through the air like a lightsaber. The journey is off to a fantastic start!
Against the Sky gives the first taste of the album’s incredible sense of space. The sky feels endless. Also, notice the rhythm and textures; they underline both the speed and the sounds of the train.
Across the World to Be With You
Next out is the album’s first single, the brilliant Across the World to Be With You, featuring Ricky Kej. Its feel-good atmosphere instantly takes hold of the listener; It is as bright as a summer’s day, with a nice hint of Eastern mystique. The flute and synth duet is done with the skill and finesses one will expect from world-class, award-winning artists such as Whalen and Kej. One word; Bravo!
After this incredible display of craftsmanship, My Immortal Beloved gives time to think and reflect. It develops slowly. The whole album has a Blade Runner-ish kind of romanticism where time and space lose meaning, and love becomes the center of the universe – but nowhere is that atmosphere more apparent than on My Immortal Beloved. The Wayward Sun further refines this idea, giving a glimpse of something both meaningful and troublesome – and serving as an introduction for what’s to come: Vox Humana.
Many of Whalen’s electronic inspirations are within the prog-rock realm, and Vox Humana takes us there – almost before we are able to adjust our ears. It is a cool and danceable piece, a dream for choreography and colorful displays. There are many levels of meaning to decipher here, but I better leave that to the individual listener. One thing is certainly thought; it could alone power a train!
The journey continues with The Ribbon of Time. It takes the mind to the very brink of comprehension, to a place where you must be on par with Einstein to understand what is going on. The rest of us is along for the ride – and what a sweet ride it is! Its triumphant sound is refreshing on many levels. Regarding Journey to LightsEdge, Whalen said in an interview here on New Age Music Guide that this is “a title I have had knocking around in my head for 20 years. The song turned into an epic ambient/prog-rock anthem using the palette of the entire Imaginary Trains album.” With the finesse of Tangerine Dream’s all-time most popular piece, Love On A Real Train, Whalen’s journey takes us to a truly extraordinary place. The conclusion is breathtakingly beautiful.
I’m happy to report that the album ends on a high note – or several, to be precise. Dream Together is a personal favorite of mine; the light, uncomplicated and romantic atmosphere is magnificent. Every single note is in perfect harmony, telling a story of everlasting love and romance. It is a dream that becomes reality, which the next piece – the eight minutes long Until the Night Is Over – seems to confirm. The album closer Distance ft. Donna Lewis underlines the album’s theme brilliantly. It is so beautiful that it brought tears to my eyes.
In conclusion: These days, thanks to technology and globalization, we often say that the world is getting smaller and smaller. But listening to Michael Whalen’s Imaginary Trains, that impression is gone with the wind. Pieces like My Immortal Beloved, Journey to LightsEdge and Distance are vast, larger-than-life pieces. But unlike many of Whalen’s electronic inspirations, this vastness is not cold in an ambient, Tangerine Dream-ish way. No, it is warm and filled with endless possibilities. He even makes distance and longing sound positive and upbeat. We desperately need that kind of positivity in this world. The album is, in short, captivating from start to finish.
When you board Imaginary Trains, don’t be surprised if you don’t want the trip to end. Luckily, the replay button offers an endless supply of tickets to ride Whalen’s train again and again.
Make sure to read our interview with Michael Whalen about Imaginary Trains.
For more information and music samples, visit michaelwhalen.com.