Posts Tagged ‘Light Upon the Lake’

Max Kakacek and Julien Ehrlich, Whitney’s songwriting duo, have been preparing to release their debut album since shortly after their last band, the Smith Westerns, split in 2014. When writing songs together, Kakacek and Ehrlich developed a persona: Whitney is a lonely guy who drinks too much and lives alone. It was probably a pretty easy idea to embody. Both Max and Julien are quick to admit that the songs for Light Upon the Lake were written in the midst of consecutive breakups. They felt a little bit like Whitney, so they built this as a bit of a concept album.

But, the weird thing about labeling this record as a breakup album is that it’s both accurate and—paradoxically—widely off base. It’s not angsty, or hastily prepared in a few drunken nights off of some fit of red-eyed nostalgia. Sure, literally speaking all of the songs off of Light Upon the Lake conjures up failure to maintain a relationship with a loved one, but how can you relate a new band’s debut record—and one that’s so so fully realized to the point of even having a mission statement in the Whitney, as a man, as a writing prompt and concept.

Is it too early for millennials to wax nostalgic about their golden days? Sounding like the Flying Burrito Brothers guesting on The Muppet Show, this debut from a pair of indie-rock refugees (Ehrlich from Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Kakacek from Smith Westerns) reminisces over a crumbled relationship with warmly generous lyrics to match the summery strum of the music.

The smartly dressed simpleton at the center of Whitneys “Polly” video isn’t having a very good day. The clip, directed by animator Sarina Nihei, starts off promising; sitting alone on a bench one cloudy morning, the gentleman is joined by another fellow, who just so happens to like fellows. They fall in love and go on a dune buggy ride, and it’s great, until the dune buggy crashes and the boy’s new beau leaves him choking in the dust. So, naturally, he decides to go for a walk through the seediest part of town, passing by addicts and dead birds (not to mention through a sludge wave) as he goes on his merry way. Is it a happy adventure? No, but it’s an adventure nonetheless. Watch below.

Whitney released their debut album “Light Upon the Lake earlier this year on Secretly Canadian.

 

Light Upon the Lake

Over the course of three Smith Westerns albums, the group matured from fuzzed-out buzz band to 70’s-sheen rockers. But with the emergence of the band Whitney it’s apparent that it wasn’t frontman Cullen Omori that made the Smith Westies such an intriguing project. Instead, it’s guitarist Max Kakacek and drummer Julien Ehrlich that have managed to re-purpose the band’s best ideas and push things to unexpected places.

Whitney are chill with lo-fi tracks are, if anything, even more magical live than they are recorded. Add in the visual of a drummer/vocalist and some expert brass instrumentation, and you have a perfect storm of sonic goodness. Their set at the Bodega Social was exactly that, and I’m counting down the minutes and seconds till they play in my city again. Light Upon The Lake,  that pops with jukebox familiarity. Maybe it’s the guidance of fellow 70’s rock aficionado Jonathan Rado that translates the ideas of Whitney into such a fully-formed, unexpected debut,

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Light Upon The Lake has slowly become one of my favorites in 2016.

The falsetto that Julian Ehrlich sings in. Normally, that’s a deal breaker for me as well but after a few listens of No Woman, I started to feel the interesting beauty that came with Erlich’s falsetto and the wonderful guitar playing of Max Kakacek (he of Smith Westerns fame). Then they released Golden Days when announcing the album and I was hooked. A few weeks later I received the full album and I haven’t been able to stop praising it since.

Ehrlich and Kakacek wrote this album after they each went though breakups. But labeling this as a breakup album would be wrong in my opinion. To me, it is more about two buddies helping each other during a tough time. They holed up in a Chicago apartment, writing the songs together; Whitney becoming their shared identity. Says Kakacek, “We were both writing as this one character, and whenever we were stuck, we’d ask, ‘What would Whitney do in this situation?’”

The next step up in their evolution was making the trek out to record with Jonathan Rado, sleeping in him backyard for weeks. Together with the help of some other talented musicians, they crafted a wonderful album of lo-fi country soul. It captures a period in their life in a way that combines the wistfulness of youth with the burdens of becoming an adult.

Formed out of the dissolution of personal and professional bonds, Max Kakacek and Julien Ehrlich’s new project is a transmission of inner rapids—and their first full-length, Light Upon the Lake, is a postcard from the calm on the other side.

The primary contradiction of Light Upon the Lake, the debut LP from Whitney, is this: how can music so strongly rooted in melancholy make you feel so glad to be alive? It’s a strange platter—and to be sure, Whitney’s kind of a strange band (just take a look at their introductory portraits on Instagram if you really want to, uh, get to know them). But in talking to Max Kakacek and Julien Ehrlich, the songwriting duo at the forefront of the group, it becomes clear that there’s an explanation for every contradiction—a key to every song.