Whitney ‘Light Upon the Lake’ – Review

30 Jun

At the turn of the decade there were seemingly countless bands creating lo-fi, romantic indie pop. The Drums, Girls, Summer Camp, Tennis, Smith Westerns, Magic Kids, Cults, Surfer Blood, Young Friends and Best Coast are some groups that spring to mind. Most of them have now broken up or faded in to obscurity, which seems a fitting fate. After all, these bands were interested in utilising moments of momentary, lustful pleasure and conversely, overwhelming but short lived heartbreak – the type of summer rain mood that feels so seismic one day before fading in to obscurity the next. These bands articulated the joy and the agony with unfussy language, swooning melodies and simple arrangements, recorded cheaply straight to Garage band. Whitney are a throwback to this era in that they literally contain members of key touchstone Smith Westerns and Uknown Mortal Orchestra, write songs about nostalgia and exploit their understanding of classic pop songwriting to expose heartbreak in all its glorious beauty.

If you want to trace the line back further than 2010 then don’t stop until you reach The Band’s seminal debut, ‘Songs from the Big Pink’, but be sure to make a detour at Neil Young’s Harvest. With it’s clear cut melodies, soulful vocals and loose country rock arrangements, ‘Light Upon the Lake’ owes a debt to those two albums in particular. But Whitney don’t get hung up on replicating past masters. They aren’t half as reverential as we’ve come to expect throwback rock bands to be. They aren’t bigging themselves up in the press, they don’t strut around the stage like wannabe Mick Jaggers and they make no attempt to hide their barely woken, half baked smiles. They are enthusiastic admirers of classic rock but they’re pretty chill about it and you get the impression that they listen to as much 90s r&b as much as anything else.

It’s this casual sincerity that makes ‘Light Upon the Lake’ such an endearing debut. It’s so laid back and easy going, it’s a wonder it doesn’t fold in on itself. Everything about it contrasts with the fussy and tongue tied alternative music currently in vogue. The sound of the album almost replicates the crisp warmth and crackle of vinyl. From the shimmering, jangly guitar licks to the warm baseline, cheery horns and faintly double tracked vocals over top -everything is layered with such seeming ease and precision. It wraps you up and overwhelms you like the sticky heat of bed sheets on a summer night. What’s most remarkable is that the late July vibe was conjured by the band during the coldest winter in icy Chicago’s recent history.

The lead single is called ‘Golden days’ and the title alone acts as a kind of thesis. These are tunes that idolise the recent past but equally bathe in the sadness that comes saddled with the nostalgia. They sing mainly about breaking up and falling apart but they often sound totally smitten with the whole concept of loss. The wistfully pretty title track dwells on this feeling over one of the most evocative sounds, a sweetly strummed Fender Jaguar. ‘Lonely haze of dawn, when old days are gone.’ They hit that pop sweet spot between jubilance and heartbreak, youth and manhood, old and new .

Whitney spend the album ‘searching for those golden days’ but it seems likely that in decades to come they will look back on this as a kind of golden age. It seems one of those of the moment records that they will find hard to top. With simple clarity they write about things most people can relate to and express their thoughts with utter conviction and a first class understanding of musical craft. They seem uncertain if they want to return to the past, forget it or simply dwell in the loss – that hazy uncertainty will be familiar to anyone also coming undone in their mid 20. If you’ve ever wanted to escape down an ocean view freeway, or if you miss old friends, or if you lay awake at night struggling to shift thoughts of somebody just out of reach – ‘Light Upon the Lake’ will speak to you.

8.5/10

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