Whitney – Light Upon the Lake

May 27, 2016

The other night, in between our daughter’s excited screeches, my girlfriend turned to me and said, “I wish I could feel that level of excitement again.” The excited screeches were in response to Penguins from Madagascar (which was much better than I expected, by the way). Our daughter is now 19 months old and loves watching TV. I’m not sure she knows what’s going on, but that fact does little to diminish her love of it.

Before I had a child of my own, I swore that I wouldn’t let my yet-to-exist-child watch a lot of television…we now watch about 15-30 minutes of television each night with our daughter shortly before she goes to sleep. This is but one thing that I swore I wouldn’t let any child of mine do. In fairness, the TV is never on during the daytime and it’s never more than 30 minutes a day. One of the main reasons I have softened on my previous anti-TV stance (beside her overall cuteness and my inability to say no to her) is her excitement each night when the TV comes on. It’s a level of excitement that I, as a 37 year-old, will probably never experience again in my life. Her birth was as good as it gets, but the hallways of the hospital did not echo with my shouts of exultant joy on the night she was born. Perhaps if I was hanging out with Eddie Vedder my inner-me would feel this way, but I could never express it outwardly like she does. She has an ear-to-ear smile on her face the whole time. Laughs when we laugh. Acts surprised when we gasp. She just loves it so much, who am I to deny her of this joy?

Earlier today, while browsing some music blogs, my girlfriend’s observation about our daughter’s level of excitement popped into my head. While there is plenty of new music that I enjoy, that level of excitement just isn’t there anymore. If I listen to 10 songs, I might really enjoy about 1 or 2 of them. 10 or 15 years ago, that percentage would have been much higher. I could tell myself that it has to do with the music itself. You know, music was better back then, but isn’t that exactly what older people start telling themselves?

It goes without saying that taste is subjective, so it simply cannot be that the overall quality of music has diminished. However, when I talk about new music with my peers, it seems that many of them are listening to less new music these days. It could be time constraints. It could be technology. It could be biological. A study published last year found that people stop listening to new music at age 33. The phrase “stop listening” may be a bit dramatic, but I believe that the data indicated that people start listening to less new music around age 33. I’m 4 years past that, but each year, it seems like I listen to less and less. I’ve been better this year, largely because I have been forcing myself to be, but there still hasn’t been much that I’ve fallen head over heels in love with the way I fell for countless album in the 90 and early 2000s.

There’s so much music constantly being released and so much music that I’ve heard already that it has become harder and harder to get excited about new music. For starters, a lot of what’s popular these days isn’t being made for me. Take Beyonce’s Lemonade, for example. It’s really, really good…but I don’t think white males in their late-30s were the demographic she had in mind while making it. At some point during a recent Pearl Jam concert, I found myself reflecting on popular music in 1991 vs. 2016 and it seemed unfathomable to me that a band like Pearl Jam ever ruled the charts. I know pop music still dominated the charts in the early-to-mid 90s, but alternative rock was a force to be reckoned with. I don’t listen to a lot of radio these days, but I know that guitar-based bands on the charts are few and far between.

billboard top 10, week of june 4 2016

Now, it may seem counterintuitive, but the reason I was thinking about our diminished capacity for genuine excitement as we get older is because I found myself getting a little excited for the June 3 release of Light Upon the Lake, the debut album from Chicago-based Whitney. To date, Whitney has released three songs from Light Upon the Lake and I’ve highly enjoyed each of them. Two of those three songs are featured in the video at the top of the post. “Polly,” which is featured on Light Upon the Lake, has not been released in advance of the album.

The first song I heard from Whitney was “No Woman,” and while highly enjoyable, the second track they released, “Golden Days,” was the one that hooked me. Not long after it was released, I tweeted something about “Golden Days” being the perfect spring song. The last hour before the sun sets is known as “the golden hour” in photography and is considered one of the best times for taking photos. Close your eyes and think of the light that is cast before the sun sets. Everything has a golden hue. This song sounds exactly like the “golden hour” looks and sounds every bit as beautiful as the world looks bathed in golden hues.

Whitney formed from the ashes of the Smith Westerns, a band I have an album by, but can’t tell you if it’s good or bad. I remember hearing good things. I vaguely remember thinking good things. I believe it was released during a period where I was downloading way too much new music and wasn’t absorbing all that much of it. The six-piece band centers on former Smith Westerns’ guitarist Max Kakacek and singing drummer Julien Ehrlich, also a member of Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Big ups for singing drummers.

As if Ehrlich’s falsetto singing won’t draw enough comparisons to Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, the band’s demos were also recorded in a Wisconsin cabin. Musically, the two bands have little in common. Whereas Bon Iver’s debut featured little more than Vernon’s voice backed by an acoustic guitar, Whitney’s sound is buoyed by horns, keys, two guitars, and a bass. One blog post I came across referred to Whitney as the “best band you’ve never heard of.” A bit hyperbolic perhaps, but based on the 3 songs released in advance of the album’s June 3rd release, Whitney seems to be the real deal.

Listen to Whitney’s Light Upon the Lake on Bandcamp, Spotify, or Apple Music.

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