Light Upon the Lake: Demo Recordings give listeners a more intimate look into the band Whitney


The unusual, foggy falsetto voice of Julien Ehrlich drifts easily over all of the noise, even his own drumming, while his co-founder Max Kakacek picks, strums, and slides a riff on guitar, rocking with “sloppy precision.”

While the Chicago-based band Whitney classifies as indie-rock, their sound is far from typical. As a six-piece band of two guitars, a bass, a keyboard, a trumpet, and drums, they could easily be written off as “just another rock band.” But after listening to them, their surprisingly whimsical sincerity is what sets them apart.

Throughout their whole first album, Light Upon the Lake, Ehrlich’s eerily sweet vocals were consistently recognizable, and every song could easily be identified by the definite lull of his voice carrying throughout. At the core of their songs is their telling lyrics that reflect the realities that both Ehrlich and Kakacek, the main songwriters for the band, have faced. When Ehrlich suffered the loss of his grandfather, he was inspired by his loss to write “Follow,” which depicts the end of life as a hopeful and sweet goodbye.

Their stunning primary album from 2016 was recently followed up with a new album featuring the demo recordings of the songs from Light Upon the Lake, a single cover, and a fresh track.

“Golden Days” was first released in 2016, and comparatively, it sounded more put-together and sharper than its more blended and varied demo with its definite rhythm. In the demo, the most noticeable difference is the echoey vocals that are smeared over the slippery vibrations of Kakacek on guitar and the few and far between horn interludes.

According to the band, Whitney’s sound is deeply inspired by Allen Toussaint, a pianist from New Orleans; in their November release, that love for his music was plainly portrayed with their cover of Toussaint’s “Southern Nights” from 1975. The original is composed of Toussaint playing piano that simultaneously croons the lyrical melody while also maintaining the deeper, darker notes that bring it all together. With a more filtered and synthetic approach to the richly classical song, Whitney puts their own personal edge to it with the sounds of a quavering keyboard and Ehrlich’s soulful voice.

In the midst of all the reruns of songs was “You and Me,” their newest single. Thankfully, the song’s upbeat nature perked up the album with well-spaced pauses and the epic combination of keyboard and electric guitar. Personally, I felt like “You and Me” showcased each person’s unique abilities.

In addition to their international success despite only coming into existence in 2016, Whitney caught the eye of Elton John, especially member Kakacek who John reportedly deemed as “absolutely gorgeous.” If that’s not a compliment, I’m not sure what is.

Although they are the rough drafts of the final product, each song still envelops their listeners with the essence of Whitney and provides a more intimate look into the recording process. Despite being outsiders in their own genre, they have pioneered their way into the music scene with a creative sound like no other.