WHATFOR is more than just pop.
The man behind the moniker, Michael Sienkowski, has the mentality of the classics, a knack for sharp songwriting and a handsome set of pipes. This ensures that Whatfor's debut album is pointedly smart and crafty without compromising its levelheaded measure - the finest Midwestern gallantry tempered by the strong hands of wry humor and verse. With songs masking self-mockery in '60s-style pop, Sooner Late Than Never channels the sardonic joy of The Kinks, joined by Beatles harmonies and a vocal style reminiscent of Rufus Wainwright. Despite the oft-biting lyrical subject matter, the album sounds upbeat and manages to escape the trap of redundancy that can plague pop rock. Each track takes its own personality, from touches of baroque, finger-plucked rag to tongue-in-cheek misogyny that will put your hips in a twist.
Sienkowski is no stranger to the Madison, Wisconsin music scene. He's the drummer for spastic-pop trio Sleeping in the Aviary and was a founding member of the late, lamented Eyebeams. Whatfor finds him taking full advantage of his musical neighbors. SITA bandmates Elliott Kozel (guitar) and Phil Mahlstadt (bass) help flesh out Sienkowski's own work on piano, vocals and drums. Beth Morgan of Madison's Pale Young Gentlemen acts as cellist laureate, while UW music majors Erin Heinke (harpsichord) and Jamie Kember (trombone) add extra flavor to the mix. Cribshitter's Christine Christenson even busts out her tuba for a track. Overall, the crew conveys a sense of musical modesty, lending the album skillfully minimalist performances which Sienkowski has layered into an irrepressibly catchy whole.
Sooner Late than Never, recorded by Ricky Riemer at Science of Sound in Madison, was released May 20, 2008 on the Science of Sound label.
”What he’s (Michael Sienkowski’s) doing is playing music you recognize, and he’s kicking no small amount of ass at it.” - Eric Sams, CokeMachineGlow
”The songs on Whatfor’s debut, Sooner Late Than Never, were written to work in a basic rock-trio format, driven mostly by Sienkowski’s vocal melodies, which are meandering and catchy at once. At times he also slips in bits of strings, horns, and harpsichord, not to mention harmonies that teeter and swoon like a drunken barbershop quartet.” - Scott Gordon, The Onion A.V. Club
”One of Sooner Late Than Never’s strengths is Sienkowski’s willingness to deviate from the classic bass/drums/guitar format. Perhaps it’s because he’s a drummer by trade, but some of the best songs here feel like they weren’t written by a guy with a battered up acoustic guitar, which is a breath of fresh air. There are flashes of cello, trombone, even harpsichord, and some of the compositions that rely most heavily on these instruments are the eventual standouts; Fast Asleep, with its longing vocal and jaunty cello riff for example, is a classic spin on the baroque-pop style. I’m Not Fooling Around probably was composed on guitar, but it deserves special mention for its beautiful harmonies and tinkling xylophone flourishes. It’s probably my favourite thing here and on a debut this strong that’s really saying something.” - David Coleman, No Ripcord