Release Date: Jun 3, 2016
Record label: Secretly Canadian
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
When Whitney released “No Woman”—the first of two singles off of their debut album Light Upon the Lake—it seemed too good to be their first release. The track was just the right meld of expertly noodly guitar leads, faint falsettos, lullaby piano and bombastic horns. In reality, it’s not truly the band’s first effort. Max Kakacek and Julien Ehrlich, Whitney’s songwriting duo, have been preparing to release this debut album since shortly after their last band, the Smith Westerns, split in 2014.
It has been a while since the indie music world has been graced with a certifiable buzz band. If I had to point a finger toward the most recent groups to earn that somewhat dubious distinction, I would look at bands like Chvrches, Haim and Django Django. The Chicago-based outfit Whitney looks to be the latest band to carry the cross of this label. But where Whitney differs from many of its predecessors is that the group does not seem to have been built out of a desire to become a buzzy band but instead fell ass backwards into the title thanks to its supremely pleasing and well-crafted songs, which are receiving their first real release here on Light Upon The Lake.
Can a duo be a supergroup? Maybe that’s a tongue-in-cheek designation for Whitney, the band composed of former Smith Westerns guitarist Max Kakacek and former Unknown Mortal Orchestra drummer Julien Ehrlich. Both were standout members of their former bands; Kakacek never got his due in Smith Westerns, as singer Cullen Omori’s presence soaked up much of the adulation. Ehlrich, who looked about 11 years old behind the kit with UMO, was a long-limbed beast.
Retrophobiacs look away now: Max Kakacek and Julian Ehrlich of the glam-rock cribbing Smith Westerns have returned, except this time they’ve dialed the clock back even further to the late sixties and the bucolic sounds of North American folk-rock. The pair wrote this new material in a cabin in Wisconsin but they could just as well have been holed up at the Big Pink, such is the homage paid to The Band on instantly hummable single Golden Days. The same goes for the majestic horn arrangements that dazzle throughout, sounding as though they're straight off The Last Waltz.
Light Upon the Lake is the moseying debut album of Whitney, a septet built around the core songwriting team of Julien Ehrlich and Max Kakacek, both formerly of Smith Westerns. Often surprisingly intimate for a seven-piece, the group makes subtle use of instrumentation like brass and strings to flesh out without symphonizing their country-tinged indie pop. The melancholy opener, "No Woman," begins with cushiony keyboards and a short brass fanfare before Ehrlich -- who doubles as the band's lead singer and drummer -- introduces his misty, double-tracked falsetto.
There is a pleasant feeling of substance to a hissy analog record, a sense that you can bundle the track up and fit it in the palm of your hand. When first listening to Whitney’s Light Upon the Lake, I was immediately captivated, yet wondered how real that anima was, or whether it was something I guiltily mapped onto what I knew to be a reel-to-reel recording. Yet, after taking the album for more than a few rides, it was easy to grasp the real musical elements which make this album stick.
Whitney are barely a year old, since Max Kakacek (ex-Smith Westerns) and Julien Ehrlich (ex-Unknown Mortal Orchestra) joined forces, but it’s as if they’ve been bottling up the spirit of ‘Light Upon the Lake’ for over a decade. Out it pours; these songs about missteps, misled youth and forgotten nights. At their best - Max’s guitar lines going full-throttle, Julien’s soulful falsetto never missing a beat - Whitney are exceptionally smart at capturing a feeling that’s hard to contain.
Whitney’s reputation as a supergroup is perhaps a little overstated. Only in the indie world could a group formed of members of Smith Westerns and Unknown Mortal Orchestra attract the super prefix. But Light Upon the Lake merits superlatives. It’s a confident and effortless record that sounds as if it has always existed, blending shades of Americana and classic guitar pop into a russet-coloured, American pastoral whole.
Bands are born, they live, they make records, they play shows, they break up, they die. Some reunite (most reunite), some don’t. That’s pretty much how it goes. In December, 2014 one band, Smith Westerns out of Chicago, Illinois, met its final end. Front man Cullen Omori went one way, signing a ….
Welcome one, welcome all to what I was reliably informed recently – by a cab driver in Stockport, no less – is the great British heat wave of summer 2016 [editor's note – this review was submitted a week ago while the weather was still shit, sorry Dan]. I write this on Bank Holiday Monday and, while I slave away, ensconced in a Tooting flat, to bring you this review, I assume everyone else in this fair city is out basking in 14 degree temperatures. Victoria Embankment, St.
"I've been going through a change/I might never be sure/I'm just walking in a haze," contemplates Julien Ehrlich as Light Upon the Lake clocks its tone-setting, ornate first minute. Whilst it's true that the meandering, sun-tinged take on sexist bullshit-less country that Whitney offer up on their debut is a far cry from the glam indie ramshackle of he and Max Kakacek's formative band, Smith Westerns, Whitney shouldn't worry about being too sure of themselves. .
Formed from the ashes of acclaimed Chicago indie-poppers Smith Westerns, Whitney’s debut record contains the same kind of dreamy predilections as that outfit, but with a more buoyant attitude. Dreamy and light-hearted, the likes of Golden Days and No Matter Where We Go are anthems written for the summer – albeit one that stretches between the glowing radio pop of the 70s and the more recent, jaded tones of the past decade and a half. As such, the former song is a jaunty, sweet number that seems reluctant to give itself over totally to the emotions that inspired it, while the latter is a carefree soulful ditty that’s full of escapist dreams, but which simultaneously lacks the conviction of its message.
Listening to Whitney’s breezy, soulful debut LP, you’d probably be surprised at their sheer industry pedigree. The band rose from the ashes of Smith Westerns, their album was recorded with Foxygen’s Jonathan Rado helming the production, and frontman Julien Ehrlich also spent time in Unknown Mortal Orchestra. However, Light Upon the Lake, with its intimate sound, DIY warmth and understated songwriting, brims with the same energy as fellow Chicago rising stars Twin Peaks, who grew up together as high school pals.
Bass, horns, strings, organ and choir provide the backbone, and when Whitney allow themselves to kick it up a gear and really let rip, as on ‘Golden Days’ (with its cathartic “Na na na” outro) or the George Harrison-meets-The Band magnificence of ‘Dave’s Song’, they’re untouchable. “I may or may not have come close to crying,” admitted Ehrlich about recording his parts for the album. Listen closely and you might too.
by Grant Rindner Car Seat Headrest’s newest record is what all good indie rock should aspire to be. It’s intelligent, self-aware, a touch neurotic, and rough enough around the edges to feel completely authentic. Teens of Denial is a long record, but one that has so much personality and insight that you’ll wish there were another dozen tracks tacked on.