In “Heart Clinic”, Mike Whissell explores the various ways that human hearts interact with each other and the myriad trials of trying to connect with another human being. His melodically rich, varied songs are filled with wry observation on relationships, but they are also emotional and direct pleas about the need for connection. The songs have a cathartic kinetic energy, like a thrilling conversation. There is a sense of redemption and release. On this album, the clinic is one that Whissell needs as much as the listener.
“The Scorn” starts like a rush of cool wind, with a snaky droning guitar figure gradually building to a giant uplifting chorus that hits you right in the chest. Tightly wound bass and drums roil the layers of atmospheric sound. “Habit” snaps out of the gate with a syncopated melodic bounce. The bridge introduces joyous handclaps before the band drops away, and Whissell delivers his farewell to the absent in a voice of resignation and acceptance.
“Broken Pieces” thrums away with a disco stomp and pointy little guitar arpeggios slicing through the air like disjointed lasers. Whissell searches for a way forward and finds a source of optimism in the fragments left behind. The song climaxes into a sky-scraping guitar solo before bursting wide open into an anthem of hope. “Be My” takes a darker turn with a ragged bluesy swagger, all chopping guitars and funky rhythms. But the bravado is a ruse, as everything drops away to reveal a broken man, pining for someone he’s lost. In the coda, the chords rise as if Whissell is literally searching for ascension, for the ability to rise above the heartsickness.
“Glad You Came” finds Whissell in a feistier mood, with a bouncy strutting rocker that feels like finding your way across a room to someone new. A harmonica solo signals a folk influence before the narrative returns and we’re journeying across a darkly dramatic minor key rocker.
“Highest Bidder” takes a quasi-jazz rhythm and twists it into the frame of a tale of romantic woe. “I can’t deny it, that I feel the way I do” sings Whissell atop of wall of voices and guitar. The instrumental section features more nimble interplay between the guitar, bass and drums and a wash of shimmering voices. In “Sunset” a vaguely country influence is revealed, where the guitars and organ do a Band-style dance married with an insistent drum groove.
“Vintage Feel” has jangly indie rock verses that give way to a leaping power-pop chorus, and some deft rhythmic turns as the transitional melodies momentarily pull at each other like playful children. In the song’s middle section delayed guitars hover in the background like a mist before a snare roll rips through them like a cannonball and the song returns to its contagious chorus. “Compassion” builds from a deceptively knotty funk riff into a gargantuan chorus that tears into your heart like a thousand daggers. Ringing guitar arpeggios dot the song like blinking LEDs, fading and receding in three dimensions before the final chorus explodes with organ and guitar textures.
“Found Her Lost” is a blues-inflected curveball—a tale of things done to women by evil men. A guitar line plucked from the Delta mud softly growls through the verses, and the solo bends itself through time and space to place you back into the soft night air, standing near the violence and soaked with fear. The chorus brings in a touch of country harmony and a major key counterpoint to verse. In the songs final moments, after a brief pause, it explodes in double time like two drunks having a knife fight, lurching upwards and racing into a manic frenzy before collapsing in a dramatic chord sequence.