GARY STEEL asks: Why do so many albums sound intentionally awful and artless? Part 2!
Whitney is a duo made up of former Unknown Mortal Orchestra drummer (and the singer on this record) Julien Ehrlich, and former Smith Westerns guitarist Max Kakacek. It sounds like a folk-rock album from 1966 with vocals by a Mickey Dolenz (Monkees) sound-alike.
Hang on a minute, I’ll try that again. It sounds like a folk-rock album from 1966 where they forgot to hire a producer, or an engineer, and could only muster up some kind of toy microphone to capture the vocals, which they overdubbed on a cassette tape.
There are good things about Light Upon The Lake, Whitney’s first (and last?) album, but those good things are somewhat smothered by the cheapskates production. Given their connection to UMO, however, I’m guessing that the lo-fi principle at work here probably came as an un-requested aesthetic bonus. This reviewer’s reaction? As Peppa Pig’s brother George would say: “Yuck!”
The good things, then. It gets that ‘60s folk-rock baroque thing down pat, and the songs are both perky and short (as is the album). Sometimes, it’s refreshing to hear a record like this; that is, a record that sounds like it was made before Sgt Pepper, after which everyone was supposed to make a statement and have long songs and some conceptual ties. What I like about Light Upon The Lake is that it’s kind of winsome and sweet, but in a good way. There are distinctive acoustic/semi-acoustic guitar figures (picked, not strummed guitar, which makes all the difference), strings (or string emulators), so it’s redolent in its own way of that sunny West Coast verging-on-psychedelia sound. And the horns sound so out of place that they actually work.
Sadly, by the last few tracks I was feeling all worn out from the way the sonically horrible multi-tracked vocals sliced through everything around them, and feeling disappointed that despite its good points, it failed to give more than hints that there was really anything here beyond a few smart notes, melodies and moves.
Apart from the arrangements, it’s really quite disappointingly unambitious and samey, and while there is occasionally real promise, Whitney have ended up making an album that’s as flawed as it is slight.