On Chicago duo Whitney’s second album, Forever Turned Around, they hit a soft spot more tender than their 2016 debut, Light Upon the Lake. But even though they sound like they’re strumming their way through a lazy afternoon, they have a lot on their mind.
Across 10 tracks, singer/drummer Julien Ehrlich and lead guitarist Max Kakacek ponder the passage of time and how love and friendship changes. “I keep changing before I know it,” Ehrlich sings on “Before I Know It.” Yet he sounds like he’s simply making an observation rather than ascribing value to the inevitable process. Forever Turned Around is full of longing, and sometimes, the more someone longs, the more they end up emphasizing the distance between themselves and that which they desire. Maybe that distance, that detachment, adds to any sense of objectivity in these songs. It could also be because instead of being about specific moments, Forever Turned Around is about the slow, protracted fades of emotion, mainly love. For example, first single “Giving Up” is about the gradual deterioration of a relationship.
None of this is to say Forever Turned Around is an emotionless album. On “Valleys (My Love),” Ehrlich sings, “I’ve been on my own all day, pretending everything’s all right. We’ve been drifting apart for sometime. … I feel like I’m holding onto a place in your heart that’s long gone.”
The lushness of Whitney’s new set of compositions can’t be understated. But it’s no surprise they were able to achieve what they have on Forever Turned Around. Kakacek used to play guitar in Smith Westerns, and Ehrlich used to drum in Unknown Mortal Orchestra. These guys know how to write tunes, and they co-wrote the entire album. And demonstrating life’s capacity for unexpected change, Whitney reunited with original rhythm guitarist Ziyad Asrar on the album. They got further help in fleshing out their arrangements from Jonathan Rado (Weyes Blood, Father John Misty) and Bradley Cook (Bon Iver, Hand Habits). As for other contributors, “Song For Ty” and the title-track feature Chicago musicians Lia Kohl and Macie Stewart on strings, and trumpeter Will Miller appears all over the LP, including some of its best moments, like “Rhododendron.”
Whitney’s increasingly sophisticated mix of sentiment and objective detachment shows that they embrace their life changes as much as lament them. It’s a healthy, mature attitude, especially for musicians of their skill and tenure.
review by Leslie Chu