Take a load off, Annie, with the deceptively down-home indie-pop of Whitney. Fresh off the break-up of celebrated Chicago group Smith Westerns, Max Kakacek and Julien Ehrlich mine the soul-searching feel of After the Gold Rush-era Neil Young and Van Morrison’s cosmic R&B to express the universal melancholy of being out on your own in the world. Their tunes are simple enough to take hold on first listen, but it’s the subtle features — smart horn charts, strings, an instinct for when to pull instruments out of the arrangement — that make Whitney’s first single “No Woman” a keeper.
And then there’s those vocals. Drumming and singing at the same time, Julien Ehrlich has a delightful falsetto that suggests what Kermit the Frog’s cool nephew might sound like behind the microphone. For a young man, Ehrlich has especially been around the block, having played in Unknown Mortal Orchestra prior to joining the ill-fated Smith Westerns. The curious combination of rootlessness and heedless optimism conveyed in his voice adds a fetching quality to tracks like “No Matter Where We Go.” Whitney’s debut album Light Upon the Lake offers more of this unexpectedly soulful slacker pop — just in time for the graduation season.
A sociology professor living in upstate New York, Leonard Nevarez is patiently waiting until his kids are old enough for a family roadtrip to Maryland Deathfest. He blogs about the intersection of urban studies and popular music at musicalurbanism.org.