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Whitney reimagines singer-songwriter rarities and popular sing alongs alike on new covers LP, Candid

Photo Courtesy of Secretly Canadian

The one-of-a-kind combination of indie rock and soul that defines Whitney is largely, if not entirely, the result of its two core members, drummer/singer Julien Ehrlich and guitarist Max Kakacek. Following the demise of their former band, Smith Westerns, the Chicago-based musical architects released two excellent albums under their new name and eclipsed their past successes.

Now, for the songwriting duo’s third LP titled Candid, Ehrlich and Kakacek transfer their spotlight toward the band’s touring musicians while reinterpreting ten cherished songs from square one. What initially started last January as an attempt to capture the energy of Whitney’s live performances by recording two or three covers eventually ended up as a full-fledged project, featuring unearthed folk songs from the 70s to modern offerings fewer than ten years old.

Candid establishes the record’s expansive full band sound with Kelela’s tender 2013 track, “Bank Head.” Whitney converts the dreamy R&B number into a sparse soul ballad that strips away its hi hat cymbals and electronic beat in favor of rich piano chords and pulsing physical drums.

Ehrlich’s high-register singing voice, however, perfectly complements the original, though his smooth, soaring vocals shine even more on tracks such as Moondog’s innocent, folksy ballad “High on a Rocky Ledge” and the buoyant melodies SWV’s classic heater, “Rain,” which also touts a luscious bass line fashioned after the original’s Jaco sample.

Although Ehrlich’s singing and Kakacek’s catchy guitar riffs populated most of Whitney’s first two albums, Candid more often yields to an ensemble dynamic with appropriately-placed solo flourishes. Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield makes a remarkable appearance on the second verse of the Appalachian standard, “Take Me Home, Country Road,” giving the rollicking cover a campfire sing along feel, with her gorgeous delivery of the lyrics “painted on the sky” stealing the show.

Whitney also utilizes Will Miller’s sweet, drawn out trumpet playing on songs such as the joyful and declarative cover of Damien Jurado’s “A.M. A.M.” — fans of Wild Wild Country might recognize the original — and especially on the album highlight, “Hammond Song” by The Roches.

Although the original version of “Hammond Song” is full of rich vocal harmonies, Ehrlich’s impassioned singing matches the intensity of several voices alone and Miller’s mid-song trumpet solo provides the ideal melodic release. To an extent, Ehrlich’s vocal inflections on “Hammond Song” sound like he’s posing the questions the song asks inward, which emphasizes the original’s introspective nature. And much like the original, Whitney’s cover is infinitely replayable.

There are a few places throughout Candid’s 33 minute runtime, however, that fail to creatively reinvent its source material. The cover of “Strange Overtones,” written by David Byrne and Brian Eno, never feels too far away from a Talking Heads song. Likewise, while the band might personally enjoy the slide guitar-punctuated instrumental “Something Happen” and the encouraging Labi Siffre tune “Crying, Living, Laughing, Lying,” but they lack the communal energy and experimentation found elsewhere on the record. None of these are bad covers, but to a certain extent, they feel shoehorned into the tracklist with little relation to more thoughtful covers.

At Candid’s best, Whitney uses its full roster to prove that great songwriting transcends genres and, as Kakacek demonstrates with his guitar on the closer, Blaze Foley’s “Rainbows and Ridges,” that it’s possible to speak volumes without singing a single word. But ultimately, Whitney’s third album pays tribute to a handful of beloved songs that also help to decipher the band’s fine-tuned blend of styles.

4/5

Jaye Jayle takes a turn down a strange, dimly-lit foreign street on third LP, Prisyn

Photo Courtesy of Sargent House

A telling line on the fourth song of Jaye Jayle’s latest full-length, Prisyn, perfectly explains the dark and dense mood conjured by the album.

“Berlin, that’s what I’m in/I’m thinking about David/I’m thinking about Iggy,” Evan Patterson, the project’s main creative force, sings over the bassy, synthetic feel of “The River Spree,” a song that, in itself, strives to evoke the albums created by Bowie and Pop in late 70s Berlin. Continue reading Jaye Jayle takes a turn down a strange, dimly-lit foreign street on third LP, Prisyn

Juracán shows flashes of post rock on acoustic guitar-filled sophomore album, Jarineo

Photo Courtesy of Anima Recordings

An album that has a lot of guitar playing on it still might not fit the label of a “guitar album.”

But, Juracán’s latest LP, Jarineo, which spans 20 tracks of fingerpicked melodies and reverberated echoes, could most definitely be categorized as such.

Juracán is the musical project of Portland-based musician Pierre Carbuccia Abbott. Originally from the Domican Republic, the multi-instrumentalist blends Latin-tinged acoustic guitar playing with reverbed-out post rock leads to craft a sophomore album that gives off a relaxing, end-of-the-day feel. Janireo carries along like mellow evening, a laid back mood interrupted only by the staccato power chords of the sludgy outlier, “Tensión” (Juracán’s sole member also plays bass in the Portland metal band, Flood Peak).

Carrabuccia Abbott’s lyrics pair well with the reflective feel of Janireo’s songs. Although most of the songs have Spanish titles, he sings all of his lyrics in English, save for his vocals on the piano-lead song, “Valor.” On album highlight “Psychotherapy,” he introduces his confessional-style vocals with lines such as “I haven’t felt this lost/Since my teenage years” or “I wanna tell you more/But I don’t know what to say.” The abundance of beatdown lyrics — which can also be found on other songs such as “Anxiety Riddles” or the Elliott Smith-indebted track called “More Space” — bolster the ruminative and plentiful instrumentals on the record.

In fact, the majority of songs on Janireo are free of vocals. An early instrumental track titled “En Casa” sounds like one of Led Zeppelin’s folk ballads with its intricate guitarwork and brooding sonic backdrop. “Complacencia,” the album’s longest track at four and a half minutes, dives headfirst into an ambient style by employing rumbling effects and soothing electric guitar melodies. Elsewhere on Jarineo, short interludes fill out the album by adding new textures and soundscapes to explore.

In addition to his favored instrument, the guitar, Carbuccia Abbott also introduces several other instruments on Jarineo such as a deep-sounding clarinet on the song “Clarinete” and a South American-sounding flute on “Flautéamo,” with the latter track featuring dynamic bass lines, as well.

The saxophone playing of collaborator Eric Leavell on “Flying Again” is another welcome addition to the album’s musical diversity. The single is also notable for having that album’s most uplifting chorus. “Sometimes it feels like you can fly/And sometimes you give flying a try,” Carbuccia Abbott sings atop his loudly strummed acoustic guitar.

Looking past the sometimes unpolished production on Janireo, Carbuccia Abbott’s practiced guitar animates every track on Juracán’s sophomore release, even when songs don’t fit conventional rock or pop structures. Jarineo is a textbook “guitar album” that notably incorporates a number of other instruments in support of its skillfully layered six-string sketches.

3.5/5

SPICE leans into uncertainty on its sonically rich, cautiously optimistic self-titled debut

Photo Courtesy of Dais Records

The self-titled debut of the Bay Area band SPICE sounds more like a third or fourth album from an accomplished rock group. The five piece carefully balances post-punk and indie rock while powering through nine cathartic songs with an underlying thread of optimism. Continue reading SPICE leans into uncertainty on its sonically rich, cautiously optimistic self-titled debut