Album Review: Light Upon the Lake // Whitney

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The relationship between weather and music has always been co-dependent. For example, summer amplifies certain songs and sounds, sometimes the warmer weather provides a space where certain bands can tap into an emotional vulnerability of the listener to a greater degree. There is, more often than not, an implicit pathetic fallacy between lyricism and seasons. Whitney – a duo consisting of ex-Smith Westerns members Max Kakacek and Julien Ehrlich (who also had a stint as drummer of UMO) – are one such band who employ this pathetic fallacy. Their music feeds off of the palpable atmosphere of summer to such an extent that it influences their aesthetic and sound. With Light Upon the Lake, Whitney have released an album that exudes the bitter-sweetness of summer without it overshadowing their songwriting talent.

A lot of the songs on the album are guitar-led pop songs, but Whitney do throw some interesting ideas into the mix. Transitionary tracks such as ‘Red Moon’ and ‘On My Own’ pace the album really well. ‘Red Moon’ contains some smooth trumpet and piano instrumentation which helps diversify the sonic palette of the album. There is a real threat of this album becoming one-dimensional, perhaps too self-indulgent, but the instrumental diversity ensures the album stays fresh. Whitney don’t exactly have a distinct sound, nor do they offer much in the way of originality, but this doesn’t necessarily negate from the quality of the music. Bands such as Real Estate and WAVVES are similar in the sense that they don’t exactly offer originality, but they do offer quality songwriting. In many ways, their short songs and dreamy aesthetic encapsulates the modern attitude towards summer; summer has developed into a season of nostalgia and detachment. The opening riff of ‘No Matter Where We Go’ is ripped straight from classic rock/Americana, accompanied by Ehrlich’s trademark falsetto – it’s fun, it’s brief, it’s nostalgic, yet focused.

The album isn’t all fun, however. Heartbreak permeates each song in the album, even on the more sonically positive songs; there’s a sense of angst and pining for romance throughout. ‘No Woman’, for example, is a track that approaches the complicated relationship between the past and failed relationships. The crisp guitar lines compliment Ehrlich’s emotionally malleable falsetto. As you hear his voice break on the hook of the track – as he sings ‘No woman’ – you understand he is aware of his reliance on other people, his desire for a particular woman or time. Additionally, it is a track about leaving behind the comfort of home for the road, an uncomfortable acceptance of change, ‘walking in a haze’ towards the future.

Fundamentally, Light Upon the Lake is not an album that pushes forward the envelope of rock music, but this isn’t a problem. It thrives in its simplicity and contemporary appeal. This doesn’t necessarily mean the album will not have lasting appeals. The emotionally vulnerable lyrical themes – heartbreak, nostalgia, maturity – and diverse musical palette will ensure repeated listens. Most interestingly, the album was recorded in the dead of winter, but it situates itself in summer. In many ways, the album is emblematic that even with the passing of time, even as the snow melts into summer, feelings can remain unchanged; summer doesn’t always melt away the heartbreaks of winter.

Words by Benjamin Newman

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