Albums Of The Week

Chicago band Whitney's debut album a winsome, cinematic summer of lost youth

Whitney are a Chicago indie-rock band fronted by guitarist Max Kakacek (left) and vocalist- drummer Julien Ehrlich.
Whitney are a Chicago indie-rock band fronted by guitarist Max Kakacek (left) and vocalist- drummer Julien Ehrlich.PHOTO: SECRETLY CANADIAN

The new Chicago band are besotted with the fictional woman they made up and write songs for

No one in this new Chicago group is called Whitney and there is no evidence that any of them is a card-carrying cadre of the Whitney Houston Fan Club.

Instead, Whitney, formed from the ashes of Chicago glamgrungeniks Smith Westerns and assorted other acts, are actually a pretty cool, sunny, breezy, indierockin', R&B-ish, FM-radio, gently folkie septet that is best enjoyed with a frappuccino.

Whitney, as it turns out, is a fictional character around whom the band compose narratives, imagining what she would do, feel and think and the circle she moves in.

In short, their debut album, Light Upon The Lake, is a winsome, cinematic summer of lost youth, the type of films you could imagine John Hughes or Richard Linklater has a knack for.

If you like M83's wistful, poppy 2008 album Saturdays = Youth, then this is the even more wistful and lovely cousin.





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Julien Ehrlich sings in falsetto - something familiar these days, with the likes of James Vincent McMorrow and Bon Iver's Justin Vernon, all maestros of the male high register. But there is a difference: Ehrlich never shows off or revels in sonic curlicues.

Instead, he sounds consistently thin, wheezy and sincere - coming across as a geeky, self-conscious chap terribly besotted with this girl, like a young John Cusack holding a boombox above his head in the 1989 romantic comedy Say Anything....

"Oh, don't you save me from hangin' on/I tell myself what we had is gone," he pleads in Golden Days, a mid-tempo, sun-kissed country ballad drenched in scuzzy guitar riffs and an outro that makes you go "Na, na, na".

The delicious self-pity is irresistible too in No Woman, with mariachi horns softly blowing over a lapping wave of lonesome guitars, trumpets, piano and starlit keys like an apparition. Inspired by a break-up or long-distance separation, Ehrlich ponders all that he has left behind as he wakes up in Los Angeles going "No womannnnn".

Whitney's effortless way with a tune means you cannot help but sing along to the chorus, even if he is down on his luck.

"These days and nights I can't be found," he sings chirpily on The Falls as drums pitter-patter around him like frisky pooches.

When he finally sits down and comes clean, like a poor, suffering bloke breaking down in front of you, it is the quintessential confessional set up for an emotional pay-off.

"I'm still the boy you left for nights/And I don't wanna know what I should do," he sings in Dave's Song, buffered by a comforting bolster of strums, riffs and slapdash drums.

It is the millennial soundtrack for a road movie, drifting from heart to heart, wandering ceaselessly, and wondering where home is.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 13, 2016, with the headline 'Wistful for Whitney'. Print Edition | Subscribe