Light Upon the Lake
The 2014 breakup of beloved Chicago rock band Smith Westerns left several young, talented musicians with impressive resumes and openings in their schedules. Unsurprisingly, the former members have had little trouble signing to labels and producing promising material; frontman Cullen Omori recently released a solid solo album on Sub Pop, and now we’re being treated to the debut of Whitney. The driving force behind the Chicago-based group, which is seven members in full, comes from Smith Westerns expats Julien Ehrlich and Max Kakacek. Ehrlich (who was also in Unknown Mortal Orchestra) handles drums and vocals, and Kakacek is on guitar.
Light Upon the Lake was written in the middle of a Chicago winter but recorded in California’s San Fernando Valley. That unlikely combination is all over the resulting set of songs—the warm, sunny, country-tinged rock is the light that evens out the darker, deeper lyrical subject matter. On opener “No Woman,” Ehrlich sings, in his soft falsetto, “I’m just walking in a haze / I’m not ready to turn.” Light Upon the Lake is, understandably, an album about breakups and the many forms they take. “I’ve been sick since you left town / We’ve gotta find a way to feel the same,” Ehrlich sings on “Dave’s Song.”
While recording in the Valley, which isn’t exactly known for its musical output, Whitney channeled other, more famous California hideouts, like Topanga Canyon (Neil Young) and Laurel Canyon (everyone else…and Neil Young). Like those famous sessions, Light Upon the Lake was recorded in analog, which forced the band to concentrate on each performance carefully. There’s only so much tape, so you have to get it right—and they did. This may be a debut album, but the members of Whitney aren’t crossing their fingers and hoping for the best. They haven’t had to do that for years.