Caroline Groff, Staff Writer
Whitney has held a spot as an indie rock staple since their burst of success in 2016. Now the Chicago duo, Max Kakacek and Julien Ehrlich, have released their long awaited second album, “Forever Turned Around.” This is the first taste of the older, but just as melodic Whitney, for newer fans. Having only released song covers—including tracks Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Be Staying Here with You”—since their debut album’s release in 2016, the new album released last week offers a look at what they have been up to.
The duo’s level of success with their first album, “Light Upon the Lake,” was no surprise. The debut album’s singles “No Matter Where We Go,” “No Woman” and “Golden Days,” amplified the Chicago soul with a soft-rock haze and infused big-band sounds with intimate vocal harmonies that blended into an inviting soundscape with everything falling perfectly into place.
Now they are back, and it feels like they have picked up right where they left off. The sounds of the album are familiar with warm guitar riffs, airy vocals and horn sections that engulf the listener. Even with that same soulful dreaminess that is present in every Whitney track, the album creates a different atmosphere with their old bag of tricks. Every song has the quintessential Whitney sound, yet there is a change from the first album that is easy to hear but hard to pinpoint exactly why it feels that way. Where songs on their first album like “No Matter Where We Go” brought a faster, overall upbeat tempo, this album replaces those with more melancholic tunes like “Day & Night.” The lyrics are solid and simple but carry a heavier load, and the tone has undeniably shifted.
The album is kicked off by its first two singles, “Giving Up” and “Valleys (My Love).” The sounds are bigger in a jam band type of style, but the lyrics are simpler and more poignant. The line “I feel like I’m holding on to a place in your heart that’s gone,” on “Valleys (My Love)” evokes an air of somber memories. The usually airy vocals have a heavy weight underneath, making it lovelorn and reflective.
It seems that time and space are key components to this shift. With a total of 10 tracks the album rounds out to about 33 minutes. Even with the short run time, they have still allowed themselves space within the notes, perhaps compensating with too much space at times. Sophie Kemp for Pitchfork wrote, “If you listen to it too many times you might forget it’s on; it blends into the background easily.”
While blending into the background doesn’t sound like a great description for a band, it is not necessarily a bad thing. It blends, it melds, it forms the environment around itself into a reflection looking into the loss of the past and of love. The closing and title track, “Forever Turned Around,” concludes the album with a glance into the past with the line, “Spent a long cold winter thinking about/The way forever turned around.” It takes a reminiscent look into the past with sadness and understanding.
The album feels like a release meant to lead us through the change of the seasons as fall quickly approaches. The release also comes at the perfect time for fans in St. Louis who want to see the melancholy duo in action. Whitney will be in town Sept. 10, performing at the Delmar Hall. As the seasons change, the tracks will offer a welcome warmth even amidst some of their somber subjects.