Published Aug 27, 2019Smith Westerns could've been the peak for guitarist Max Kakacek and drummer Julien Ehrlich; the buzzy Chicago band disbanded at the height of their popularity in 2014.
After some soul-searching, the duo founded Whitney, and their debut album Light Upon the Lake quickly earned critical acclaim and a sizable fan base thanks to their amiable tracks about seeking emotional intimacy amidst isolation on the road, wrapped in warm, horn-laden arrangements. It didn't take long before the new band fully eclipsed their old outfit.
Sophomore full-length Forever Turned Around still features the orchestral palate that bolstered the tracks of Light Upon the Lake, but it's clear that the songs this time around are less reliant on the instrumentation to stand out. While furthering Whitney's breezy voyage into laidback, soul-flecked folk-rock, the new album wisely resists the debut's tendency to bring the horns in every time a song called for an emotional crescendo, instead organically incorporating them into flourishes big and small. The arrangements are less immediately memorable, but the horns are more organically woven into the arrangements, proving the strength of the songwriting.
It's the songwriting that has improved the most between albums, with Ehrlich's smooth falsetto doling out line after line of vivid, natural imagery and heartfelt, direct pleas, driving most of the tunes this time around. Ehrlich is unafraid to speak directly to his pals with a similar level of intimacy and urgency as he would a lover, elevating tracks like "Friend of Mine" and "Song for Ty" to the level of more overtly romantic highlights "Giving Up" and "Valleys (My Love)." Whitney's music is buoyed by the sonic relationship between Ehrlich's voice and drums with Kakacek's sprightly guitar licks, and it's easy to imagine the band's founding friendship worming its way into the lyrics as well.
Where Light Upon the Lake alternated nicely between its folksy rockers and downtempo meditations, Forever Turned Around features a consistently gentle rhythm, which occasionally slurs the songs together into a syrupy stew. But it serves to heighten the raw lyricism, opting for fewer instrumental tricks to reach its full emotional heights.
Though relying on their well-worn instrumental strengths and lacking Light Upon the Lake's compositional variance, Forever Turned Around sharpens Whitney's songwriting for another intimate collection of heartfelt tunes. (Secretly Canadian)