Long before they became present day indie sweethearts, Whitney’s Max Kakacek and Julien Ehrlrich were crafting up an enticing style of rock that captured both modern and retro flavors in a unique way. Their previous band, the glam and garage-inspired Smith Westerns became Chicago legends on the strength of three infinitely fun albums. Over half a decade after their breakup, the Kakacek and Ehrlrich-lead Whitney are one of the modern era’s most universally loved acts and deservedly so.
Whitney’s sound is warm and carefully calculated. It beams gently like soft rays of sunshine at dusk. Guided by Ehrlrich’s delicate falsetto, over two records, they’ve fabricated a soulful brand of roots music coated with a charming indie pastiche. Building on the strength of their 2016 debut, Leave the Light On, their feel for song appears to have only gained more depth and skill. Whitney’s latest record, Forever Turned Around, recreates the serenity of their debut in the scope of nostalgic songwriting and elegant compositions.
Many of the tracks on Forever Turned Around follow a similar progression, often starting out quaint and soft-spoken, gradually adding in more instrumentation en route to a climactic and full-bodied finish. Where this approach could seem formulaic, Whitney’s earnest writing and the organic feel of the production prevail, making each song as captivating as the next.
The intro track, “Giving Up,” a yearning ditty of undying love, establishes the album’s musical premise. Soft acoustic guitars meld with the falling jingle of muddled keys to create an ambiance suited for a quiet morning stroll. In an instant, a vibrant horn section fills the song with life, a tonal shift which exists on nearly every cut throughout the record. Similarly, “Used To Be Lonely” includes intermediate moments of shredding among its caressing melody, making for a swift yet touching swoon of tenderness.
The simple progressions of the subsequent track, “Before I Know It,” inflect monumental walls of emotion. From the Mac DeMarco-esque acoustic guitar tones to the whiny electric licks on the chorus, each element helps punctuate the song’s internal fire. Elsewhere, “Song For Ty” wraps its arms around the bond in a single relationship and the idea that unity is everlasting, even after we become physically separated from someone, a theme best exhibited in the lyrics “Back when we were young, we would ride / Though the changes come, you’ll get by.”
In multiple cases, the band’s writing makes allusion to various points of nature in order to express their swaying feelings. On “My Life Alone,” Ehrlrich isolates himself among the elements to conjure up a wishful state of mind that ultimately brings him back to the intimacy he desires the most. “Valleys (My Love)” also uses scenic imagery and an enchanting instrumental to tap into Whitney’s emotional surrealism. The combination of slow ascending horns and dramatic string arrangements manifests into an uplifting medley of sounds that is arguably the album’s spiritual peak.
Past Whitney’s endearing ability to write a great tune, one of their most attractive qualities is their instrumental flavor, which appears in different spades throughout the record. Harping back to their Chicago soul roots, “Rhododendron” features an assortment of dusty garage-funk slick enough to entice the toughest guy in the room into a convincing head-nod. On “Day & Night,” they deliver a compelling contrast between their sunny melodies and the ominous bass groove that underscores the music, while “Friend” veers towards country-informed folk-pop.
Emotionally speaking, Forever Turned Around is a reactive record steeped in melancholy as much as it is filled with optimism. At times, it’s a sunny-sounding album. Simultaneously, sad themes lurk in the shadows. In either case, Whitney’s musicality always finds a way to shine through and make the sentiment at hand feel vital and unmistakably human.