Music is at its best when it makes you appreciate the mundane. Something as simple as watching the sun rise can be a beautiful thing; even if your life is slowly crumbling to a million stressful pieces. Music can cure personal malaise, patch a broken relationship; construct a new one. It can heal between the confines of time and space. Heck, it could even be the catalyst for all of your worries.
Whitney’s new album Forever Turned Around accomplishes much of the above criteria in a solemn but potent manner. The folk rockers are seemingly following the footsteps of Bon Iver with chill tunes about escapism and purity (they actually recorded much of the album at Justin Vernon’s Wisconsin studio). There’s still a great deal of nostalgia and warmth left over from their 2016 debut Light Above the Lake. The gentle acoustic arrangements once again flood the band’s sonic palette-except, with more intimacy this time.
The Chicago natives take a more intimate approach to their sophomore release; focusing solely on the brains of their two co-founders, Max Kakacek and Julien Ehrlich. The production sounds infinitely more focused-it’s breezier, atmospheric and tender. Whitney skillfully balances serenity with contemplation, never allowing their emotions to officially get the best of them. There seems to be a subtle state of paranoia scattered throughout as well.
Both Ehrlich and Kakacek are happily married adults with steady careers- but they’re aware of certain consequences if things were to go awry. This is especially true on the desolate guitar ballad “Used to Be Lonely,” where Ehrlich and Kakacek reminisce about a time when things were dreary (“When long days knock you down/When cold winds turn me ’round/Take me out into the night”). There’s an eerie feeling of insanity in the air juxtaposed by the easy-going nature of an acoustic guitar.
Neither artist is taking life for granted; which is a nice change of pace in a fast-moving industry. Whitney’s skeletal reflection of their childhood on “Before I Know It” thoroughly encapsulates a wistful feeling of remembrance. It allows listeners to take a deep breath for a second, and forget about the technological advances that seem to orchestrate our lives nowadays.
After some reflection, Whitney acts as if they’re going through some mid-life crisis. “Song For Ty” re-visits the nostalgic feel with a great deal of longing (“Tell me everything is just beginning/I don’t feel alive but I’ve been living”). They’re not unhappy at all with their current living situation-just weary of what could happen with one simple misstep. This aforementioned paranoia seems to be the driving force of capitalism in modern-day society. Both artists are rightfully cautious of their future (and ours for that matter).
Even through all of this commotion, the folk rockers can still put together a beautiful love ballad. “Valleys (My Love)” reassures their loyalty to their respective romantic partners. The twinkling keys and poetic songwriting tie nicely together with the the overall theme of romantic yearning. The placid violin at the backend of the song transitions smoothly into the jazz-inspired interlude, “Rhododendron,” where the triumphant percussion, light guitar chords and subtle backbeat make for a nice break in the action.
When the album swings back into motion, the results are just as satisfying. “My Life Alone” harkens back to Bon Iver’s Bon Iver day, where nature’s beauty overshadowed the hustle and bustle of industrialization. “Day & Night” acts as a dichotomy for the previous track-swiftly describing the dizziness of modernization, and all of its perils (“Always getting closer to the great divide/Wheels spinning through the city/Chasing the state line”). Whitney’s conflicting emotions are what promptly makes this album a whole. One can easily get lost within the dreamy sonic palette. But isn’t that what music is supposed to do? Act as an escape from reality? Somehow, someway, Whitney balances that mindset with reality itself.