Whitney - Light Upon The Lake: Demo Recordings - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Whitney - Light Upon The Lake: Demo Recordings

by Mark Moody Rating:6 Release Date:2017-11-10
Whitney - Light Upon The Lake: Demo Recordings
Whitney - Light Upon The Lake: Demo Recordings

Whitney is essentially the duo/alter-ego of Julien Ehrlich (ex Smith Westerns and Unknown Mortal Orchestra) and his Smith Westerns’ bandmate Max Kakacek.  Ehrlich plays drums and handles lead vocals in a soulful falsetto (a bit less sturdy than Kevin Parker of Tame Impala perhaps but it works great with their melodies), while Kakacek plays guitar and shares songwriting duties.  Their debut album, Light Upon the Lake, was one of my favorites of 2016, and on heavy rotation throughout the Summer.  As Ehrlich sings on ‘No Matter Where We Go’, he wants to take his girl out and “drive around…with the windows down” in his “trash heap two seat”. With its punchy melody and huge hook on the chorus it has you doing the same and hitting repeat.  Likewise, other poppy songs like ‘Dave’s Song’ and my favorite, ‘The Falls’, kept things buoyant while ballads like ‘On My Own’ and ‘Golden Days’ added some depth.  Although ‘No Woman’ was the first single on the album and the opening track, things really kicked into gear and started a cohesive whole on the second track, ‘The Falls’.  The album wasn’t quite the monster of Tame Impala’s Currents of the year before, but for me it was the equivalent shimmery, sugary confection that made a perfect companion for drives to the beach or puttering around town - not a weak track and one you could play for friends and family and not be asked to “turn that off” or “can we listen to something else”.  The originally released version of this album is a "10" in my book.  The Summer of 2017 passed by without an equivalent I ever landed on, and that’s too bad, but when I saw Whitney had a demo version of the same album coming out I jumped at the chance to get my hands on it, expecting stripped down versions of the songs.

Light Upon the Lake: Demo Recordings consists of the same number of tracks as the original in that two from the released album aren’t here (ironically the title song is missing as is the instrumental ‘Red Moon’) and they are supplanted by ‘You and Me’ as well as a cover of Allen Toussaint’s classic composition ‘Southern Nights’.  First to get the obvious question out of the way, the new song ‘You and Me’ would have been one of the most upbeat, with a slower bridge, but would have fit in swimmingly with the rest of the album.  ‘Southern Nights’ on the other hand, though Ehrlich is in fine voice, is a woozy, boozy version that is lethargic to the point of almost coming to a full stop and doesn’t add anything to the original.  And herein lies the problem of these “demo” versions of the songs from the album.  These aren’t alternate takes or stripped down versions played with different instruments, they are basically the same tracks in unfinished form.  Two things stand out from the original versions - one being that the final album has a bit more of a compressed glossy sound that probably contributed to its cohesiveness, but the second thing to note is that some of the songs have been slowed down considerably (or I guess technically if these preceded the album versions the final tracks were sped up).    

As you have to do if you are going to compare something to the original, a side by side analysis is a must.  Also if you have come to know and love something and listen to it dozens of times you are going to quickly pick up on differences and in all honesty probably be critical of the change.  Same goes for sequencing of songs, if ‘Rudie Can’t Fail’ didn’t follow right after ‘Hateful’ on London Calling you would be thrown for a loop.  Comparing tracks on Light Upon the Lake turns into a bit of a math exercise on the demos on display here through analyzing song speeds.  The prime example being the previously mentioned ‘No Matter Where You Go’ which on the original clocked in at 2:42 and here drags to 2:51.  I’m no math major, but at 9 seconds longer that makes it 5.5% longer or slower in my parlance.  I have an antique Victrola with a speed control that sits by a notched scale with no numbers on it, so you basically adjust it til "it sounds right".  So what's going on with 'No Matter Where You Go', is that it's going nowhere fast and it just sounds “off”.  If my math is right it's the equivalent of playing a 78rpm record at 74 - so you're going to notice.  'Golden Days' ends up being 2.1% longer/slower, so not as dramatic but just as noticeable.  The faster songs no longer make you want to speed around with the windows down, with these the risk is falling asleep at the wheel.  

In fairness, the version of 'Polly' here which didn't stand out as much on the original does benefit from the more open sound with the horns and bass line more prominent.  And the album closer, 'Follow', also sounds a bit more free to breathe.  All in all though this is more messing with a good thing versus adding anything of value to the finally released versions.  Similar to The Lemon Twigs' recently released scraps from their debut, I don't understand the concept of releasing alternate versions or extras from band's first albums as their next release.  Aren’t these supposed to come out 20 years later when the bands or particular albums are legendary?  Hopefully the musicians themselves are focused on new material while their labels churn this type of content out.  If you missed the album last year, please go seek that out and leave this in the bin.  And if you want to check out the way to approach something like this successfully, look into the upcoming Sufjan Stevens' Carrie and Lowell  demos, outtakes and alternate versions which add to the original, not make you wish you were listening to the original. 


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