LIGHT UPON THE LAKE: ALBUM REVIEW
If I were to choose an album that shaped my teenage years, it would be Whitney’s Light Upon the Lake. That’s a heavy title to carry. After going through my 8th grade Arctic Monkeys and The 1975 phase, I strayed away from most forms of indie music. As soon as I entered high school, I began indulging heavily in the likes of Tyler the Creator, Chance the Rapper, and Kendrick Lamar. Indie music was my past; it was reserved for the adolescent years, which had now passed. That was, until I listened to ‘Dave’s Song’.
“I know you can’t help me now / And sometimes people change.” Ehrlich pleads at the beginning of this track. The question is not so much who he is referring to, but who are you thinking about? Are you the helper or the helpless? You can be both; change is inevitable. From the very beginning of ‘Dave’s Song’ I knew I had found my place, as if someone took my inner wanderings and instead of quieting them, muddled them with the colors of brown and blue.
Drummer Max Kakacek and guitarist Julien Ehrlich formed Whitney shortly after breaking off from their original band, Smith Westerns, in 2014. I’ve seen Whitney live four times now. Once at Lollapalooza, once at their Valentine’s Day show in Chicago, once at a free concert in Millenium Park, and once at Union Transfer in Philadelphia. The audience is usually somewhat the same: late teens to late twenty-year olds who thrift on the weekends and smoke on the weekdays (not to generalize, of course). The energy of each concert though, has always depended on and moved with Max and Julien. Sometimes they interact more with the audience, as if they’re just two high school boys who sheepishly decided to start a band. Other times, their live performance shines bright, taking away the muffled effect on many of their recorded tracks. Regardless, when the duo performs, it becomes clear that each audience member is experiencing their energy in a vastly different way. I know that everyone in the crowd found themselves lost in a triggered memory at some point during the concert, even if just for a brief moment.
The range of emotions I’ve felt listening to Light Upon the Lake never fails to surprise me. I can convince myself that a curfew doesn’t exist and never will exist while blasting ‘No Woman’ down a poorly lit Lake Shore Drive, but I’ve also been plopped down in a new bedroom, surrounded by unpacked boxes, listening to ‘Polly’ and wishing a global pandemic had never happened. No matter the circumstance, Light Upon the Lake always feels like home. This can largely be attributed to the way Whitney expertly incorporates Will Miller’s trumpets, Malcolm Brown’s keyboard, Kakecek’s guitar and Ehrlich’s drums to enforce a mellow and familiar sound. Ehrlich’s voice sparkles, but not too daringly: just enough to keep you interested.
It is difficult to believe that Light Upon the Lake was Whitney’s debut LP. The songs fit so cohesively into a compact album, that it seems like the band has spent years imagining the perfect formula. Perhaps Whitney’s inherent musical chemistry comes from their enduring friendship, or perhaps it is the unforgiving honesty that shines through each track. In moments where I’m convinced I’m in an indie version of the Truman Show, Light Upon the Lake is my mental soundtrack.
Whitney recently announced the release of a cover album Candid on August 14th, which contains Whitney’s take on tracks like “Rain,” “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” and “Hammond Song.” In times like these, we all could use a little piece of home. I know that wherever I find myself on August 14th, I will have one.