It has been a while since the indie music world has been graced with a certifiable buzz band. If I had to point a finger toward the most recent groups to earn that somewhat dubious distinction, I would look at bands like Chvrches, Haim and Django Django. The Chicago-based outfit Whitney looks to be the latest band to carry the cross of this label. But where Whitney differs from many of its predecessors is that the group does not seem to have been built out of a desire to become a buzzy band but instead fell ass backwards into the title thanks to its supremely pleasing and well-crafted songs, which are receiving their first real release here on Light Upon The Lake.
Whitney has existed as a successful live act for several years, flourishing under the power of their exhilarating live performances and exciting word of mouth despite having only one single to their name for a good stretch. The band was initially formed by Max Kakacek and Julien Ehrlich, both of whom were formerly members of Smith Westerns (by some standards, a buzz band in its own right) and Ehrlich also did a spell with Unknown Mortal Orchestra. To fully capture the group's robust sound, the band is now seven members deep --Ehrlich is on vocals and drums, Kakacek plays guitar, the well-traveled Will Miller is on trumpet, Malcolm Brown is on keys, Print Chouteau handles rhythm guitar, Josiah Marshall is on bass and Charles Glanders acts as a "traveling sound guy."
Described by Kakacek has having "a family vibe," Whitney wastes no time in proving that their much-heralded live shows can be just as intoxicating on record. The gentle, pensive piano that introduces the album's first track, 'No Woman,' is melded with Miller's evocative horns. The guitars coast into the mix, one on top of another, as Ehrlich's nasally vocals wax poetic about lonely living on the road. In a world where Mac DeMarco's brand of pleasant summertime soft rock has reigned supreme the past several years, it is not difficult to see 'No Woman' becoming a popular choice for road trips, barbeques, and afternoons in the park.
Where Whitney surpasses DeMarco and many artists of a similar stripe is in the fullness of their compositions. Dueling guitars, horns that ooze nostalgic beauty, grooving basslines, bouncy drums and keys all come together to create one of the most pleasant listening experiences of 2016. Songs like 'Golden Days' allow for just enough jamming from both the guitars and horns that one can see how their live performance can be true shows in every sense of the word, but no song ever overstays its welcome. The longest song on this record just squeaks over four minutes and the cumulative runtime for the 10 tracks is a hair over 30 minutes, meaning that even the slower, more wistful tunes here, such as the album's title track, can really pop. This is an expertly crafted experience, meant to guide the listener through a glistening collection of summertime jams that will always enthrall and never feel like anything short of great. The songs sound off the cuff and full of palpable energy and character, but not one note sounds like filler. These musicians are all remarkably talented and together they possess a superb knack for what sounds right.
That's the overwhelming takeaway from Light Upon The Lake. It simply feels right. To dismiss Whitney as a buzz band due to the hype that has preceded this release and will inevitably follow it would be a grave mistake. This seven-piece put a lot of love into Light Upon The Lake and it can be felt with each and every listen. A better summertime album will be hard to find this year. You can expect to see Whitney's name on a lot of year-end lists and deservedly so.