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WHITNEY

Whitney

Spark

    Whitney, the Chicago duo of Julien Ehlrich and Max Kakacek, return with their third album, SPARK. SPARK reintroduces Whitney as a contemporary syndicate of classic pop, its dozen imaginative and endearing tracks wrap fetching melodies around paisley-print Dilla beats and luxuriant electronics. However surprising it may sound, SPARK is less a radical reinvention for Whitney than an honest accounting of how it feels when you move out of your past and into your present, when you take the next steps of your lives and careers at once and without apology. SPARK maintains the warmth and ease of Whitney’s early work; these songs glow with the newness of now.

    The start of SPARK traces back to the surprise success of Whitney’s 2016 debut, Light Upon the Lake. Its softly distorted psych-folk dreams found a wide audience more readily than the pair ever expected; after years of ceaseless touring, they felt compelled to plug into the same sound for round two, 2019’s Forever Turned Around. As the sessions progressed, though, they became a slog, as Julien and Max worked to be versions of themselves they no longer were, to write songs in a mold that no longer fit. “What are we doing? How do we fix this, together?” Max remembers often asking Julien, as they contended with broken tape machines that felt like metaphors. This no longer felt like their music, but a vestige of their initial enthusiasm. They barely had enough material or energy to finish.

    Max and Julien knew a drastic change was necessary, but they never envisioned, of course, international lockdowns would facilitate it. Weeks after Julien decamped to Portland to clear his head after the end of a years-long relationship, Max followed, hoping to escape the tail of a long Chicago winter with his best friend and co-writer. Four days later, flights were grounded. Upcoming tours were canceled. For the next 14 months, they dug in with a zeal and determination that recalled their start, before success set expectations. “We had time to just sit and watch the body of work grow in real time,” Julien says. “We were just stacking stronger and stronger songs on top of each other.” Max picks up his thought: “Our favorite way to make records, the way we made the first one.”

    Even if the way was similar, the results are remarkably different, a refreshing reminder of how effortless a pivot can feel when it’s a true course correction. Max and Julien weren’t immune to this moment of overwhelming loss, either. Max lost his grandfather to COVID-19 in December 2020, soon after the duo’s mutual mentor, Girls’ JR White, died. But the key to SPARK—even on these saddest of songs, all of which sparkle like gentle technicolor dreams—is sublimation, or Whitney’s ability to hang around long enough for conditions to improve. To wit, the first song Max and Julien wrote upon returning to Chicago in May 2021—and the last one they finished before heading to Texas to cut SPARK with producers Brad Cook and John Congleton—is “REAL LOVE,” which celebrates the overdue end of one relationship as an opportunity to fall completely for the right someone. From its Wurlitzer chime to its serrated bass, from its beaming harmonies to its massive chorus, “REAL LOVE” is a bright-eyed celebration of what will be, not a eulogy for what was. It feels, as with much of SPARK, like twirling in whatever sunbeam happens to peak through the clouds. The video, directed by Aaron Brown, is an entirely different visual presentation than anything the band’s ever released.

    Julien elaborates: “Max and I wrote ‘REAL LOVE’ in June 2021 right after a cross country move back to Chicago. I was experiencing heightened levels of anxiety and panic, while the entire city was re-emerging from isolation. I’ve been running away from and self medicating my anxiety for as long as I can remember, but for whatever reason, it felt like it was time to dive straight into it. During late night sessions over a two week period, we captured the embrace of anxiety and fear in a way that resonated with us immediately. We spent the next few summer nights driving on Ashland with the windows down and the song turned up. It felt like an emotional and musical burst of light and we’re so grateful to finally be sharing that with people.”

    You’ll notice frequent references to smoke and fire throughout SPARK, itself a double entendre for inspiring something new or burning down the old. Max and Julien were living in Portland when smoke from nearby fires choked the city at record levels. Scientists speak increasingly of serotiny, an evolutionary miracle that causes some trees to release seeds only amid a season of fire. That is how SPARK often feels—Whitney’s circumstances were fraught on so many levels that they hung “the past...out to dry” and began again, finding a fresh version of themselves, their relationship, and their band after the blaze. SPARK is an inspiring testament to perseverance and renewal, to best friends trusting each other enough to carry one another to the other side.

    STAFF COMMENTS

    Andy says: Whitney really hit the mark here with their beautiful soulful, soft early 70's sound, and possibly the best song-writing of their career so far. Lovely mellow stuff.

    TRACK LISTING

    1. Nothing Remains
    2. Back Then
    3. Blue
    4. Twirl
    5. Real Love
    6. Memory
    7. Self
    8. Never Crossed My Mind
    9. Terminal
    10. Heart Will Beat
    11. Lost Control
    12. County Lines

    Covers have long been an integral part of Whitney's ethos. Ever since the band first formed in a Chicago apartment in 2014, tackling songs by the Everly Brothers, Allen Toussaint, and more played an important part in the songwriting process for their breakthrough 2016 debut Light Upon The Lake. Since then, their takes on NRBQ's "Magnet" and Neil Young's "On the Way Home" have become live staples, an essential and communal part of their sets. Their love for the music that makes up their deepest influences has always been genuine and tangible. Following their acclaimed sophomore 2019 album Forever Turned Around, Whitney have decided to return with a loving tribute to songs that have been formative and lasting to the entire band. Candid is a 10-song collection boasting covers of artists like Kelela, David Byrne, John Denver, SWV , and others but it's also a band challenging themselves to explore more than their musical comfort zone. "This could've been as simple as saying we really love these songs and we love our bandmates and making a covers record just felt right but it truly became an exploration into how we can evolve as a band going forward,” says drummer and singer Julien Ehrlich.

    Recorded in January and February of 2020 over multiple sessions at Treehouse Studios in Chicago and Flora Recording and Playback in Portland , Candid finally sees the full touring band in a recording studio together. " This is the first time we really saw what the live iteration of Whitney sounds like in a studio. It was a really celebratory vibe and everyone in the room fed off each other's energy," says guitarist Max Kakacek. It's the band's best reflection so far of their triumphant live show as most of these renditions were recorded live. Featuring keyboardist Malcolm Brown, bassist Josiah Marshall, trumpeter Will Miller, as well as guitarists Print Chouteau and Ziyad Asrar, the entire live unit is firing at all cylinders thanks to its tight-knit and road-tested relationship.

    Their chemistry exudes throughout the tracklist but it's especially apparent when they open up the dynamic to their friends, like Katie Crutchfield of Waxahatchee joining John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads." On the cover of the classic, Ehrlich and Crutchfield's voices merge for a joyous harmony over the chorus. Over eight days at Treehouse Studios, the band would show up in the morning, learn a song together, and choose an instrument, leading to a freewheeling and adventurous atmosphere. Their renditions of SWV's '90s R&B heater "Rain" or David Byrne and Brian Eno's 2008 track "Strange Overtones" prove this, as they stretch Whitney into new musical directions. "We love these songs and all have an emotional connection to each one, but we really wanted to see if we could take the skeleton of each track and approach it in a way that felt new. We didn't want to recreate what any of these artists already did," says Kakacek. This is most evident on Candid opener "Bank Head," which tackles the sparse and hypnotic electronic single by Kelela. Ehrlich adds, “ It's something we've never done before and probably a direction that we want to explore in our future albums” he continues, “ We knew we couldn't beat these songwriters at their own game. Instead, we wanted to find songs that were great at their core and could be reimagined.”

    At its core, Candid is a celebration of both the songs Whitney has adored throughout its formation and the band's evolving bond through years of relentless touring and an enduring friendship. "One thing we realized is how these songwriters could make amazing songs with so much simplicity. Taking these skeletons and working with this incredible material means we're keeping our chops and staying tight as a band," says Ehrlich. The LP is a sincere snapshot of their evolving and eclectic tastes that's imbued with a wholly inviting charm. It's Whitney at their most unvarnished and inventive but most importantly, it's a heartfelt tribute to the songwriters who've helped them most.

    -Josh Terry
    May 4, 2020
    Chicago, IL

    STAFF COMMENTS

    Barry says: Whitney return once again, this time with a soaring suite of covers all done in their inimitable style. Perfectly balanced falsetto, beautifully tender instrumentation and a great take on these classic tunes.

    TRACK LISTING

    1. Bank Head (Kelela)
    2. A.M.:A.M. (Damien Jurado)
    3. Country Roads Ft. Waxahatchee (John Denver)
    4. High On A Rocky Ledge (Moondog)
    5. Something Happen (Jack Arel)
    6. Strange Overtones (David Byrne And Brian Eno)
    7. Hammond Song (The Roches)
    8. Crying, Laughing, Loving, Lying (Labi Siffre)
    9. Rain (SWV)
    10. Rainbows And Ridges (Blaze Foley)





    Forever Turned Around came together over several sessions across the country. Though Julien Ehrlich is Whitney’s lead singing drummer while Max Kakacek is the lead guitarist, when writing, both transcend their roles to piece together each offering lyrically and compositionally. “The way it ends up working is one of us comes up with a basic idea for a song and the other person serves as the foil to complicate that idea. We ask, ‘What can we change to make it more interesting?’” says Kakacek. Challenging each other is the core of their songwriting partnership.

    It’s these risks and experiments that make Forever Turned Around a triumph. Take opener “Giving Up,” which started from a stream-ofconscious revelation when Ehrlich improvised the chorus while Kakacek played Wurlitzer. What began as a nod to Neil Young’s Live at Massey Hall 1971 in an afternoon turned into a heart-rending and relatable song about the ups and downs of long-term relationships. Over twinkling piano, Ehrlich sings, “Though we started losing touch / I’ve been hanging on because / You’re the only one I love.” He explains, “In a relationship, you don’t stay at the same level at all times. You go through weeks where you’re closed off.”

    After a session with producers Bradley Cook (Hand Habits, Hiss Golden Messenger) and Jonathan Rado (Weyes Blood, Father John Misty) helped color in the arrangements, the album truly revealed itself when they reunited with original rhythm guitarist Ziyad Asrar in his basement Chicago studio—the same place where they hashed out much of their critically acclaimed 2016 debut, Light Upon The Lake. “Getting down there was so important because we’ve always used that basement for music. The comfort and familiarity mattered but having Ziyad be a buffer between us was so helpful,” says Ehrlich. With Asrar, songs like “Song For Ty” and “Forever Turned Around” effortlessly came together.

    Restlessness is at the heart of Whitney’s resonant and stunning sophomore album Forever Turned Around. As Ehrlich and Kakacek realized life can change almost instantly. Priorities shift, relationships evolve, home can become far away, and even when luck momentarily works out, there’s still that underlying search for something better. Happiness can be fleeting but this album proves that even when it feels like time is turning on its head and there’s either a moment of clarity or crippling doubt, there’s still beauty in figuring it all out.

    STAFF COMMENTS

    Barry says: Whitney are absolutely unmistakable. After their 2016 outing 'Light Upon The Lake', i'm pretty sure i'd recognise those vocals anywhere. Stunning upbeat jangles, soulful progressions and smooth-as-silk percussion throughout.

    TRACK LISTING

    1. Giving Up
    2. Used To Be Lonely
    3. Before I Know It
    4. Song For Ty
    5. Valleys (My Love)
    6. Rhododendron
    7. My Life Alone
    8. Day & Night
    9. Friend Of Mine
    10. Forever Turned Around

    Carl Weingarten / Walter Whitney

    Dreaming In Colors

    Emotional Rescue begins the first in a series of reissues looking at the music of guitarist Carl Weingarten and his Multiphase Records label, starting at his highly sought after collaborate album with Walter Whitney, Dreaming In Colors.
    With an early interest in photography and Super 8 film leading to a degree in cinema production, Weingarten's other, self-taught, love was the slide guitar. Taking its blues roots and merging them with his visual arts background created a unique "painting in sound" style of playing.
    While looking to break into the film industry he began writing and recording his own film scores and other music for modern dance companies. From this, he founded Multiphase Records in St Louis in 1980. By the time of Dreaming In Colors, the label had released a series of cassettes and vinyl albums offering abstract, experimental, jazz-fusion, new wave and increasingly, new age compositions.
    Throughout this period the work of engineer, keyboardist and programmer, Walter Whitney was often present and by the 1985 release of Dreaming In Colors the duo had collaborated for a number of years and released several projects together, most notably as members of the Delay Tactics band.
    Recorded during off days from the Delay Tactics sessions, the album came together at Whitney's Subterranean Sound studio with a focus away from the bands guitar driven instrumentals to explore a multilayered approach to synthesis, blending textures with Whitney's original samples and sound design, while Weingarten's guitar moved from shining solo moments to complimenting the overall oeuvre, all with heavy washes of delay.
    This ecumenical approach led to the creation of this compelling album. A masterful conceptual whole that is linked by rich melodies and a concise playing style, heavy on substance while never forgoing the uplifting vibrations. 

    TRACK LISTING

    A1. Mermaid
    A2. Pipe Winds
    A3. Pathways
    A4. Dreaming In Colors
    A5. Rainsong

    B1. Rituals
    B2. Maiden Flight
    B3. Painted Lake
    B4. Obsession
    B5. In The Sun

    Whitney make casually melancholic music that combines the wounded drawl of Townes Van Zandt, the rambunctious energy of Jim Ford, the stoned affability of Bobby Charles, the American otherworldliness of The Band, and the slack groove of early Pavement. Their debut, Light Upon the Lake, is due in June on Secretly Canadian, and it marks the culmination of a short, but incredibly intense, creative period for the band. Formed from the core of guitarist Max Kakacek and singing drummer Julien Ehrlich, to say that Whitney is more than the sum of its parts would be a criminal understatement. The band itself is something bigger, something visionary, something neither of them could have accomplished alone.

    Ehrlich had been a member of Unknown Mortal Orchestra, but left to play drums for the Smith Westerns, where he met guitarist Kakacek. That group burned brightly but briefly, disbanding in 2014 and leaving its members adrift. Brief solo careers and side-projects abounded, but nothing clicked. Making everything seem all the more fraught: both of them were going through especially painful breakups almost simultaneously, the kind that inspire a million songs, and they emerged emotionally bruised and lonelier than ever.

    Whitney was born from a series of laidback early-morning songwriting sessions during one of the harshest winters in Chicago history, after Ehrlich and Kakacek reconnected - first as roommates splitting rent in a small Chicago apartment and later as musical collaborators passing the guitar and the lyrics sheet back and forth. “We approached it as just a fun thing to do. We never wanted to force ourselves to write a song. It just happened very organically. And we were smiling the whole time, even though some of the songs are pretty sad.” The duo wrote frankly about the break-ups they were enduring and the breakdowns they were trying to avoid. Each served as the other’s most brutal critic and most sympathetic confessor, a sounding board for the hard truths that were finding their way into new songs like “No Woman” and “Follow,” a eulogy for Ehrlich’s grandfather.

    In exorcising their demons they conjured something else, something much more benign—a third presence, another personality in the music, which they gave the name Whitney. They left it singular to emphasize its isolation and loneliness. Whitney is named after Whitney, a muse they created as a songwriting conduit—a phantom third member of the band. Says Kakacek, “We were both writing as this one character, and whenever we were stuck, we’d ask, ‘What would Whitney do in this situation?’ We personified the band name into this person, and that helped a lot. We wrote the record as though one person were playing everything. We purposefully didn’t add a lot of parts and didn’t bother making everything perfect, because the character we had in mind wouldn’t do that.”

    In those imperfections lies the music’s humanity. Whilst they demoed and toured the new songs, they became more aware of the perfect imperfections of the songs, and needing to strike the right balance, eventually making the trek out to California, where they recorded with Foxygen frontman and longtime friend, Jonathan Rado. They slept in tents in Rado’s backyard, ate the same breakfast every morning at the same diner in the remote, desolate and completely un-rock n roll San Fernando Valley, whilst they dreamt of Laurel Canyon, or maybe The Band’s hideout in Malibu, or Neil Young’s ranch in Topanga Canyon.

    The analog recording methods, the same as used by their forebearers, allowed them to concentrate on the songs themselves and create moments that would be powerful and unrepeatable. “Tape forces you to get a take down,” says Kakacek. “We didn’t have enough tracks to record ten takes of a guitar part and choose the best one later. Whatever we put down is all we had. That really makes you as a musician focus on the performance.” The sessions were loose, with room for improvisation and new ideas, as the band expanded from that central duo into a dynamic sextet (septet if you count their trusty soundman). And that’s what you hear – Whitney is the sound of that songwriting duo expanding their group and delivering the sound of a band at their freest, their loosest, their giddiest.

    Classic and modern at the same time, they revel in concrete details, evocative turns of phrase, and thorny emotions that don’t have exact names. These ten songs on Light Upon the Lake sound like they could have been written at any time in the last fifty years. Ehrlich and Kakacek emerge as imaginative and insightful songwriting partners, impressive in their scope and restraint as they mold classic rock lyricism into new and personal shapes without sound revivalist or retro. Whitney arrive as a fully formed gang of outsiders, their album rich in the musical history of the classic bands of the 60s and 70s who, like Whitney, were greater than the sum of their parts. “I’m searching for those golden days.” sings Ehrlich, with a subtle ripple of something that sounds like hope, on the track “Golden Days”. It’s a song that defines Whitney as a band. “There’s a lot of true feeling behind these songs,” says Ehrlich. “We wanted them to have a part of our personalities in them. We wanted the songs to have soul.”

    TRACK LISTING

    1 No Woman
    2 The Falls
    3 Golden Days
    4 Dave's Song
    5 Light Upon The Lake
    6 No Matter Where We Go
    7 On My Own
    8 Red Moon
    9 Polly
    10 Follow


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