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Karen Wheelock has been bouncing around the Madison music scene for a few years now, honing her songwriting and performance, working social media and building relationships. She’s even managed to snag a few Madison Area Music Award nods and is a participant in this year’s MAMA Breakthrough Artist competition. This debut EP is six songs that travel along in a mere sixteen minutes so this works as a harbinger of things to come.
Most of these tracks are sparse folk songs. “Stitches” features vocal accompaniment from local electronic artist Olivia Claire which gives the solo acoustic song added weight. Though the arrangements are pretty simple (emphasis on the pretty), Wheelock mixes things up instrumentally to keep things interesting. Her vocals are strong and clear and are at the forefront of each of these tracks. At times they are almost too pristine with nary a blemish or vulnerability breaking through.
Making connections has proven invaluable for Wheelock who has partnered with Gabe Burdulis on several occasions. Burdulis adds electric guitar to the plaintive “Smooth Talker” and joins drummer Eric Geane on the title track, which is also the EP’s best. Here Burdulis plays a tasteful guitar solo which helps take Wheelock’s song to a new plateau. His tremelo rhythm guitar adds a thickness and lushness that is missing from the balance of the EP. “Awkward Dance” closes things out with accordion played by Danny Atwater.
Lyrically the album doesn’t stray from relationship material, primarily dealing with love’s aftermath. Imaginary Girl elicits a sense of an artist on a growth curve and quite probably personal curves as well. The title track offers a lot of promise, providing some mystery to the bared confessionals. Following this path, one could see Wheelock painting a darker and more detailed landscape such as that occupied by Lana del Rey.
Imaginary Girl was recorded by Beth Kille in her home studio and was mastered at Paradyme Productions. The results are clear and clean, especially the vocals, with every consonant being enunciated. It’s Wheelock’s move now. She’s dipped her toes into the water but will need to define and differentiate herself in a city full of mega-talented female artists. This will require some real chance-taking both musically and in life. Those are sometimes frightening propositions but ones that every aspiring artist must not only take, but strive for, no matter the medium.