Light Upon the Lake is poised to be my most-listened-to album this summer. With Foxygen broken up, Tame Impala making melancholy synth pop, and Mac Demarco crowds being taken over by flower crown-wearing Coachella attendees, I’ve been actively searching for the newest and best breezy pop album to soundtrack any road trips I may end up taking. This newest Whitney record may be just that.
The duo behind the group, Max Kakacek and Julien Ehrlich, are experienced in the way of great pop music. The former was the guitarist of the now-dissolved Smith Westerns, and the latter was the drummer of Unknown Mortal Orchestra before leaving to form this group (the two bands have since played live dates together.) Both members bring a unique and complementary sound, however, the real star of the show is Ehrlich. Yes, Kakacek’s smooth 60’s psych-rock-inspired melodic licks carry many of the tunes on this album, but Ehrlich’s inimitably sweet falsetto and fantastic swinging feel behind the kit are what elevate these songs beyond being simply well-written to actual uniqueness.
Let’s not simply gloss over the writing, though, because it’s truly remarkable. It’s tough to pick standouts, because any and all of these songs have been stuck in my head at one point or another. “No Matter Where We Go” features a particularly euphoric guitar riff buzzing behind Ehrlich’s saccharine vocal melody; imagine the Beatles writing folk songs. “Polly,” the penultimate track, has a little more patience in terms of structure. It’s a bit slower than some of the other songs on the record, and seems to play with dynamics more than lean on the catchiness (not to say that this element isn’t present.)
Where Whitney’s influences become most apparent is in their arrangements. Each song features lush instrumentation, complete with a full horn section, and meticulously planned rhythmic and melodic placement. The sounds and layout come straight from the Beach Boys/Beatles playbook, allowing these gorgeous arrangements to be under-appreciated backdrops to the songwriting. Save for a few short moments (the verse on “The Falls” being one of them) no area is too crowded, and space is always given when needed.
If one aspect of the album is left to suffer as a result of all this attention to musical aspects, it’s the lyrics. They’re a bit cliché, a bit vague, and subject-wise, there isn’t much range. Of course, we’re dealing with the usual suspects: hearts, and the ways in which they are broken or mended by women. It’s nothing dire; the quality of the lyrics certainly aren’t a noticeable detriment to the album. However, they don’t seem to have received the same fine-tuning that every other aspect of Light Upon the Lake has gotten. Pitchfork calls the lyrics on “No Matter Where You Go” “[so] generically wistful that it could provoke an eyeroll, but… delivered with such gentle earnestness…” Yeah, I can see how if these lyrics were given to a different singer, they’d be a much more glaring issue. On the other hand, they are what they are, falsetto or no.
However, despite any minor shortcomings, I’ll hold strong to my initial assessment: Light Upon the Lake is the record of the summer. It has all the same elements I saw in, say, Multi-Love last year: tasteful production, a light, airy atmosphere, and above all else, incredibly catchy and blissful hooks. At just over 30 minutes, this record runs much shorter than I’d like it to, but gives me a great taste of what Whitney has to offer. Hopefully we’ll see them delve deeper into their sound in the near future.
Written by Preston Fulks