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Monday, April 18, 2016

Chicago Band Whitney Will Make You Fall in Love With Falsettos

Posted By on Mon, Apr 18, 2016 at 9:33 AM

A catchy song will find its way into your head, returning incessantly despite your best wishes. A good song will keep you coming back for more. But then there are the truly great songs that captivate you with their perfection. And “No Woman” by the Chicago band Whitney is one such song.

A beguiling, haunting mixture of Dust Bowl country, blue-eyed soul and ethereal dream pop, “No Woman,” is an enthralling listen that makes one want to scour the earth (or, more aptly, the internet) in search of other songs from the group.
But search and you’ll be disappointed. The band has not yet released an album, let alone an EP, although they just announced that they’d be dropping their debut album, Light Upon The Lake, in June.

A collaboration of Julien Ehrlich, former drummer for Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and Max Kakacek, one-time guitarist of the now-defunct Smith Westerns, Whitney formed last year, at which time “No Woman” began circulating on the internet. Along with four of their other friends, they have created a wholly unique sonic template, capturing elements of New Orleans R&B singers like Allen Toussaint, pastoral folkies such as Jim Ford, and damaged country crooners in the vein of Townes Van Zandt. In other words, though Whitney is comprised of a bunch of guys in their twenties, they have a timeless, placeless sound.

Ehrlich said that he and Kakacek always had a love for legendary musicians like blues maestro Leadbelly, and upon discovering the music of Ford, the two opted to pursue a musical approach that favored ghostly AM tunes of yesteryear.

“We didn’t really set out to emulate anyone when we started Whitney,” said Ehrlich. “But we kind of settled on this sound that was sad but hopeful — at least that’s what people are saying. Max and I were both going through breakups, and we were in a place of transition, going from our former bands into this whole unknown project. It was tough, but we’re generally hopeful dudes, and I think that comes through in the songs.”

Kakacek, whose ever-improving guitar work buoyed the creative evolution of Smith Westerns, arranged most of the music for Whitney, displaying the same effortless ear for pop sensibilities that he crafted so well for his former band. But its Ehrlich’s voice — a haunting, distant falsetto — and his forlorn and weary words that make Whitney such a disarming listen.

“Over the course of making the album, my voice kind of fell into the place it is now,” said Ehrlich, who has never previously been a lead vocalist. “I just think the prettiest way for me to sing is high and falsetto.”

Ehrlich’s voice is complimented by Whitney’s diverse musical backdrop, which features brass instruments, lonely guitar bends and looping keyboards. The sonic tenor of the band can shift dramatically within songs, seguing seamlessly from upbeat, jazzy flourishes to wayward, hushed moments.

The band has just two songs available on Spotify and a few others posted on You Tube, but Whitney has already attracted a fervid following based on that small sampling, and their statures continue to grow.

Although they’ve yet to embark on a headlining tour of the country, they’ve already been added to the bill at the Outside Lands Festival coming to Golden Gate Park in August.

“It’s been incredibly humbling,” said Ehrlich, who maintains his lead vocals duties as the band’s live drummer. “It’s so nice when I open my eyes while playing live and I see a random kid singing along to a song that isn’t even out yet. The rollout for this record has been better than anything I’ve ever been a part of. I’m just really excited for the future.”

Whitney will open for Wild Nothing at the Independent on April 22. The show starts at 9 p.m. More details are available here.

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Will Reisman


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