REVIEW: Whitney - Light Upon The Lake

Kelly Kirwan

I listen to Whitney and I think of vinyl—needle to disc, the hypnotic rotation—or a cassette clicking in a beat-up car radio, no air conditioning, a red line moving unilaterally across the stations. They're boldly reminiscent of 1970’s classic rock 'n’ roll, the feeling of “it’s all happening” that Cameron Crowe wrote about. Whitney began with two ex-bandmates, Julien Ehrlich and Max Kakacek, reuniting in the wake of Smith Westerns’ dissolution. It was Chicago, in the dead of winter, with (I’m assuming) a wicked wind chill and a single tape recorder to toy with—and so the two started writing.

Whitney was their respite, a pseudonym in the same vein as John Denver, initially serving as a barrier between the boys and vulnerability. Ehrlich and Kakacek had both been through breakups and come across a few dead-ends musically, and so Whitney was a shield for their catharsis. Until they realized, in the bluntest of phrases, that their shit was good, and it could be even better. So they took ownership. And now, Whitney is lush with new members and country-soul ditties, stitched together on their debut album, Light Upon the Lake.

As far as debuts go, this is a tour de force.

Whitney cuts deep. Their lyrics are charged with longing or a wistful reminiscing, as their melodies flutter between melancholy and trickling rays of hope. The band captures that beatnik-inspired feeling of being on the road, a continuous state displacement and optimism inspired by the open path ahead. The one track that'll hook you quick, and drudge up flashbacks to a fragmented (but not necessarily bitter) relationship is "Golden Days." Ehrlich's vocals are an alluring warble, “It can’t be real ’til I’m moving on … It’s a shame I can’t get it together now / It’s a shame we can’t get it together now.” The words hit hard over the beat, which feels both buoyant and forlorn, with horns making a cameo as it closes, punctuating a bittersweet goodbye. It's a song that, rumor has it, Kakacek and Ehrlich sent to their ex-girlfriends as a send-off and a peace offering (and no, I'm not choked up. Let's keep moving).

A follow-up track to mend your aching heart is "No Matter Where We Go," which is all twangy guitar loops and top-down, feet-on-the-dash-board bliss. “We’ll make a living darling, down on the road / 'Cause I got you holding on to see where it goes,” Ehrlich opens, and instantly you have an itch for a warm-weather road trip. It has this feel-good, wing-it attitude that’s irresistible—all of which can be said of Whitney as a whole. That roll-with-the-punches mentality doesn’t disregard personal pitfalls, but doesn’t fall prey to them either. Out via Secretly Canadian, Light Upon the Lake is a twist of soul, Americana, country, and rock to help us thaw after the long cold winter—both in a literal and proverbial sense.