Summer’s over and Whitney’s ‘Forever Turned Around’
Mike Donovan | Tuesday, September 3, 2019
Whitney’s debut, “Light Upon the Lake,” shone over a midsummer breakup, illuminating, albeit weakly, the lifeless reflection of a lost relationship.
“How cheap were the nights you used to keep me warm,” drummer-vocalist Julien Ehrlich questioned while he dipped his toes in the water and watched the reflection ripple. No one answered. Ehrlich was left in the cold — “awake in all kinds of darkness” — miming the reluctant motions of the rippling reflection.
“Forever Turned Around,” the Chicago outfit’s sophomore effort, rejoins Ehrlich and company at summer’s end, after the rippling has settled. The new record abandons the lake and its fraudulent reflections in favor of the forest. Though fears of “falling rain and a cold wind blowing / seasons changing” deepen as the summer fades (so Ehrlich sings on “Before I Know It”), Whitney’s new residence among the trees, “out where the redwoods grow,” has an un-fellable quality both lonely and comforting (according to “My Life Alone”).
No longer skimming, shimmering, skipping and swimming as its predecessor did, “Forever Turned Around” relies on strong roots. Max Kakacek’s lightly reverberated guitar lines, delicately entwined with Ehrlich’s slim falsetto, sprout like shoots and leaves from the understory’s ground floor, feeding on nutritious stores of brass (trumpeter Will Miller) and ivory (keyboardist Malcolm Brown): altogether forming an immaculate “Rhododendron.”
Whitney’s new livelihood — richer, deeper, more layered, less piercing than anything from their debut — lends itself to longevity. Whereas the brittle glimmers of “Light Upon the Lake,” “No Woman” and “Polly” would dissipate at the slightest splash, “Forever Turned Around’s” notable outgrowths, its eponymous closing track and “Valleys (My Love)” seem capable of withstanding the harshest storms.
In the forest, underneath which an intricate root system binds everything in place, “the days of the year just slow down,” tempering emotional vibrations in the process. On the lake, near “The Falls,” the speed of things was “too much to slow down,” but life in the woods never much exceeds a gentle sway. The unhurried woodland intonations counter those of the lake in a “Day & Night” dichotomy — a clip that feels “good, but / strange at the same time.”
After the irreparable descent of “Light Upon The Lake,” “Forever Turned Around” embraces the hidden comforts of reaching the ground. Fragments of broken loves and shattered connections occupy the forest floor in the manner of dead trees, providing a habitat with much needed food for sapling notions: fresh loves, blossoming friendships. Rising out of soil beneath old passions “drifting away / like a cloud hanging over the pines,” these infant notions aren’t yet acquainted with sunny days and clear skies. Instead, they enter existence intuitively aware of the many (often grim) shades coloring an honest existence. It’s not a shimmering coming-of-age by any means.
Because its content grows in the shadows of deteriorated hope, “Forever Turned Around” reaps the benefits of a cyclic musical ecosystem. The record’s respect for this system — its willingness to follow the not-so-obvious path from “Light Upon the Lake’s” elegantly thematic death toward a gradual and moody rebirth — earns all premature praises.
Summer may be over, but so too is the blistering heat, the suffocating humidity and the splintering sorrows. What’s left is the soothing beginnings of autumn, a superior season to the summertime in every sense.
Album: Forever Turned Around
Label: Secretly Canadian
Favorite Tracks: “Forever Turned Around,” “Valley’s (My Love),” “Rhododendron”
If You Like: Tom T. Hall, Emmitt Rhodes, Trees