Whitney is an indie-folk group from Chicago, Illinois. Formed in the breakup of indie rock outfit, Smith Westerns, guitarist Max Kakacek and drummer Julien Ehrlich joined forces with a handful of friends in 2016 for the band’s debut LP, Light Upon the Lake, which received wide acclaim from critics across the contemporary music landscape. They were particularly praised for their simple style and clear inspiration from early pop groups like The Byrds and early Beatles. The record was a hit for the young indie band and for well known indie label, Secretly Canadian and launched a headlining tour across Europe. With a fairly strong fanbase, anticipations were high for a sophomore release and, three years later, Forever Turned Around has arrived.
From the opening seconds of the LP, Julien Ehrlich’s drums are a standout highlight! Tracks like the opener, “Giving Up,” and “Valleys,” showcase a uniquely simple form of drumming which fits the band’s sound extremely well. There are no flashy fills or difficult time changes, but instead a nice steady rhythm with great cymbal work. The drums are also wonderfully mixed, with a crisp snap on every snare and a full thud to every kick.
Max Kakacek is also hard at work on guitar with a similar approach. Late cuts like “Day & Night,” or my personal favorite, “Friend of Mine,” feature some nice lead licks, but the majority of his best work comes in the rhythmic, acoustic work that makes up the melodic bass of most of the album. Again, he rarely stands out, but it’s that consistent performance which forms the strong backdrop for everything else to shine.
Kakacek does get a chance to take the spotlight a bit more, however, as the band’s lead vocalist. His soft harmonies and ringing falsettos on “Used To Be Lonely,” are able to sell the somewhat cheesy lyrics fantastically while his work on “My Life Alone,” is far less front and center but much more energetic and dynamic. Because of the band’s style, his vocals aren’t always front and center, but they always act as a wonderfully entry point to the band’s unique sound.
Without a doubt, however, the album’s best quality comes not from any one single member, but the group as a whole and their delightfully wide pallet. From the folksy brass sections on “Before I Know It,” to the oh-so-smooth saxophone on the excellent instrumental cut, “Rhododendron,” or even the swelling woodwinds on “Friend of Mine,” there always seems to be something interesting right around the corner and the pallet serves to color in the simple canvas at the base of each song.
Unfortunately, I am left with a handful of criticisms. Perhaps the most consistent issue comes in the production. With such a large array of instruments and a unique style to start with, this is a difficult album to mix, but the majority of it is muddy and lacks any clarity, so much so that a lot of great work is lost on tracks like “Song for Ty,” or the closing title track in a wave of indistinguishable sound.
Beyond this, there are certainly pacing problems which didn’t really exist on the debut. Even for fans of this falsetto heavy, folksy crooning, the lack of diversity in the tracklist starts to weigh on a listener by the end. Each track, on their own, is perfectly enjoyable, but the album, as a whole, definitely drags a handful of times.
Despite these complaints, Forever Turned Around is a solid sophomore effort. The simple, heartfelt shell of solid songwriting and melody is filled to bursting with a wide array of unique instrumentation and quirky harmonies. This album may not find a ton of crossover success, but for fans of this genre and this style, this is yet another solid release from an excellent group.
Forever Turned Around is a fun listen which overcomes technical and pacing issues with pure heart and and a massive pallet.
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