Whitney – Light Upon the Lake

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The album starts like this: a lonesome reverb-heavy keyboard line soon undercut by happier, heavier horns. Then, silence. Then, this peculiar, queer, sadness-inflected voice by way of Neil Young, acoustic guitar strums and all, comes in with these lines: “I left drinking on the city train / To spend some time on the road.” The horns come back in, softer and subtler than before as Julien Ehrlich sings “I’m just walking in a haze.” Let me tell you: a more formal, less peculiar singer wouldn’t have been able to sell that line the way Julien Ehrlich does. And true to the mercurial intro, the band introduces nudging bongos, crystal-clear guitar lines, shakers and strings afterwards. I can foresee many a drunken night wandering home being soundtracked by this song, because Whitney knows what you and I am going through—because they’ve gone/are going through the same thing too.

The rest of this album is a letdown. I didn’t think 2011 was a year that was worth evoking nostalgia for, given it was only five years ago. And it’s just not that Whitney’s two members come from Smith Westerns and Unknown Mortal Orchestra (both of whom broke through that year), but 2011 seemed to be the last year in recent memory where indie rock was at its plateau: the Antlers, Washed Out, the War on Drugs, the folk-turned PJ Harvey, someone no one ever heard of named Bonny Bear won a Grammy or something, etc. And, in addition to nostalgia, they also use the easy weapons of doing that juxtaposition thing of pairing cheery music with sad lyrics and vocals and putting the other single (a nice climbing keyboard line in that one) wisely as what would be the opener of the second side if this were the vinyl age; spacing out the good stuff instead of front-loading the record. The other songs aren’t bad, but their pleasures are pleasant at best: the jangle pop guitar of “On My Own” and closer “Follow” with one of the album’s best vocal hooks; the riding-towards-the-sunset vibe of the last minute of “Golden Days,” set to be next single.

But hey, for almost 4 minutes, this band brought back memories of wearing cardigans, of sipping cold beers on hot days, of self-conscious identity crises, of trying to figure out if the word ‘hipster’ was an insult or nothing at all, of standing beside Eva and Julia while watching Girls set up flowers on their microphones.

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One response to “Whitney – Light Upon the Lake

  1. Never heard of these people, and I played that No Woman song you linked. It’s cool. Shame the rest of the record didn’t cut it. But I’m not surprised. This sort of stuff is tough to do properly.

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