Light Upon the Lake is Whitney’s full-length debut album, and was released in June 2016 by the record label Secretly Canadian. Founding members Julien Ehrlich, formerly of Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and Max Kakacek, formerly of Smith Westerns, formed Whitney after the break-up of their former bands.
Light Upon the Lake captures the solitude of trying to move on from former loves, former cities, and former bands; channeling a melancholy nostalgia. It discusses the desperation involved in hanging on to the past, where so many positive memories may dwell, while trying to move into the uncertainty that the future holds. Ehrlich’s wistful vocals paired with echoing synths/keyboards and haunting acoustic guitars evoke a sense of desolation, while Kakacek’s lighthearted guitar riffs and the sporadic yet strategic scattering of horns throughout the album lighten the mood and lend it some hope.
“Golden Days” confronts the core theme of the album, being one of the first songs that Ehrlich and Kakacek wrote together. Ehrlich reminisces about a past relationship, remembering the good times that “slipped away.” Ehrlich describes lingering feelings of regret, singing, “It’s a shame I can’t get it together now.” He laments that things didn’t work out; and struggles to move on while hanging on to these memories.
Ehrlich’s lyrics are at times monotonous, yet are incredibly catchy. His shaky lethargic falsetto ebbs and flows throughout the album. At times they may leave you feeling empty, such as in “No Woman,” which kicks off the album on a slightly depressing note with haunting light melodic synths that lead into horns and distorted strings. Ehrlich sings about traveling to escape past loves and start fresh on the West Coast; “I left drinking on the city train, to spend some time on the coast, then one morning I woke up in LA, caught my breath on the coast.”
At other times Ehrlich’s masterful melodies accompanied by intricately tangled guitar riffs and resounding horns will energize you, and you will find yourself perpetually humming them to yourself. As we descend further into the album, “The Falls” is an upbeat, catchy song that flows along steadily with punchy guitar parts. The song is short and sweet, and is over as abruptly as it starts. “On my Own” surrounds us with beachy, west coast guitar leads, and jazzy horns. It is one of the first songs that Ehrlich and Kakacek wrote together, and played a large part in shaping Whitney’s sound, helping the two musicians to merge their creative styles.
Light Upon the Lake incorporates soft twisting guitar riffs, and Ehrlich’s raw emotional vocals lend this song to be the most nostalgic on the album. Light Upon the Lake was the last song Ehrlich wrote for the album, summing up everything beautifully. Ehrlich claims that the song is about the breakup of his former band, but while listening it is easy to misinterpret this as a breakup with a former love; which is consistent throughout the album. Ehrlich’s simple yet elegant lyricism in this song gives it a poignant feel.
“Fire across the plains
light upon the lake
lonely haze of dawn
when old days are gone”
During “No Matter Where We Go” Whitney briefly slips out of desperation into a more hopeful part of the album “I can take you out, I wanna drive around, with you with the windows down, and we can run all night. Ehrlich sings about the optimism he had in a past relationship despite having little money and driving a “trash heap two-seat”.
“Follow” concludes the album on a melancholy note, despite the jangly guitars and blasting horns. The song is about death of Julien Ehrlich’s grandfather while the album was being recorded. To me, this song was another way of addressing the theme of moving on. Even in death, we may not be able to tie up all of our loose ends; the ghosts of our past may follow us indefinitely. “Follow” Wraps up album with a choir of Julien Ehrlich’s singing, “I’ll follow you”.
Light Upon the Lake is one of my favorite albums of 2016 thus far, and has proven to be a great autumn soundtrack. Here’s a list of activities this album is great for: eating a granola bar, canoeing across a lake at dusk, running through a field of dandelions, locating a dead body, working in a community garden, beekeeping, shucking corn, staring out the window of a public bus, raising a family of birds, watching leaves fall, felling a tree and milling lumber, getting caught in the rain, and agriculture.
Henry McDevitt (277)