LIGHT UPON THE LAKE by Whitney
Genre: Indie Rock
Favorite Tracks: “No Woman,” “Golden Days,” “Red Moon”
Everybody needs some soft rock, sometimes. Coffee shops need music hip enough to keep the kids coming in without being too obtrusive for the fogies. Family barbecues need inoffensive music everyone can tune out together. Pier 1 commercials need something warm and not too ideologically driven to compliment their bowls or desk chairs or whatever they’re selling that week. Soft rock certainly has its place in culture and Chicago based indie rock outfit Whitney certainly appear to have put their delicate fingers on the pulse of mellow music with their debut LIGHT UPON THE LAKE. Whether or not they actually needed to is a separate issue entirely.
Primarily comprised of former Smith Westerns guitarist Max Kakacek and drummer/vocalist Julien Ehrlich, formerly of Unkown Mortal Orchestra, Whitney make music that, at its best, acts as a sort of watered down Motown folk that manages to simultaneously be reminiscent of REVOLVER-era Lennon and McCartney. There’s an earnest desire to create a thoroughly feel good experience on almost every track of LIGHT UPON THE LAKE, but unfortunately the band rarely delivers anything with much real joy or excitement over the course of the record’s scant 30 minutes.
One thing Whitney does deserve a certain amount of credit for is their consistency. Album opener “No Woman” lets the listener know whether or not this record is at all for them. Dreamy keys give way to bright and warm trumpets, only to be overtaken by Ehrlich’s muted falsetto. This is one of the few times the brass work really comes to the forefront of the album, and it is fairly exciting while it’s occurring. Unfortunately, Ehrlich’s whining, soft tones quickly become the focus of the song, leaving little room for anything thrilling to happen in the instrumentation for the majority of the track. There’s a vague sense of melancholy as Ehrlich mourns the passing of a lover, but it’s hard to care too terribly much because it’s hard to hear much real aching in Ehrlich’s voice.
“Golden Days” is another relative highlight, if only for the fact that it’s so pleasant that it’s incredibly difficult to argue with; the Ned Flanders of songs, if you will. Ehrlich wistfully reminisces about said glory days as George Harrison-inspired guitars bend and whine over a relatively rockin’ uptempo beat. The band is so clearly set on enjoying themselves on this track that it’d be impossible not to snap along a little, but that’s about the most energy any track on the album warrants. Overall, this is a song for people who think eating on the patio instead of inside is the absolute definition of excitement.
Part of the real issue with the album is that it doesn’t take time to build on anything exciting the few times it does venture outside of its safe zone. “Red Moon” is a nice little instrumental interstitial, featuring some fairly expressive drumming from Ehrlich and solid trumpet work as well. However, just when it seems the track might be building to something truly interesting, it ends and the band goes back to homogenous business as usual. It’s the biggest issue with the album as a whole. Whitney is so focused on writing little three-and-a-half minute songs that they don’t give themselves enough space or time to do something innovative with the platform they set up.
If you’re in need of safe music to play during your office’s monthly kickball game, or in your car with your mom during an uncomfortably long car ride, LIGHT UPON THE LAKE will serve you just fine. Otherwise, this flaccid, entirely underwhelming endeavor is best left ignored. There will certainly be many more exactly like it. The really offensive thing about albums like LIGHT UPON THE LAKE is their timidity, their adamant refusal to feel anything particularly strongly. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the subdued kind of music Whitney wants to make, but even the quietest of music can be rife with ecstasy and heartbreak when properly delivered. When musicians like Whitney refuse to take the risks to emote passionately, they insult their listeners by leaving them unable to emote through listening.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend