Denim days are here again
The early 2010s bore witness to some of the most invigorating and dynamic rock bands of the modern era. No Age, Wavves, Girls, Bass Drum of Death, Moonhearts, the list goes on and on, and among the best of them was a power-pop from Chicago that went by the name Smith Westerns. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, the garage rock revival exhausted itself around 2015, and Smith Westerns called it quits. However, that’s not the end of this story. Almost immediately after the breakup, guitarist Max Kakacek and drummer Julien Ehrlich formed the indie-folk outfit, Whitney. Fans of the Smith Westerns must have been a little surprised when they dropped their debut, Light Upon the Lake because instead of more high-octane garage rock, they were met with gently strummed acoustic guitars and falsetto vocals. However, it was still possible to pick up on the remnants of their indie-rock past; on their latest album, Forever Turned Around, they’ve shed their last vestiges of power pop and fully embraced this new soft rock direction.
It’s really no surprise that their country cuts are the strongest songs on this album, seeing as how they cite Levon Helm of The Band as one of their biggest influences. Track nine, “Friend of Mine,” seems to be the quintessential Whitney song. Everything the band has to offer is front and center on this song: slide guitars, janky piano chords, floating falsetto vocals and the whole thing is held together by a country shuffle. Similarly, track seven, “My Life Alone,” injects some soul into the chill country vibes, and offers up some incredible soaring horn arrangements. The song that truly stands out on this album has to be “Rhododendron,” an instrumental piece that feels more like a jam than anything else. The song fades in with the bass and drums grooving along, and they’re quickly joined by some jazzy guitar riffage. The whole thing weaves a tapestry upon which the horn section lays down some of the sweetest melodies on the entire album.
As it stands, this album is incredibly concise, but it could definitely benefit from some more high energy songs. While it doesn’t necessarily meander, Forever Turned Around starts to feel like a bit of a slog after a point. It becomes pretty clear around track six that there are no surprises in store and that the rest of the album is going to sound just as fatigued as the first half. Part of the disappointment here stems from the fact that every member of this band should be more adept at curating an engaging flow of energy; another one of Julien Ehrlich’s previous bands, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, did a phenomenal job of playing with dynamics, and the Smith Westerns exudes an infectious energy which made them stand out amongst their peers.
This album likely isn’t going to elicit strong reactions in either a positive or negative way. There’s nothing about Forever Turned Around that really excites, but it’s certainly not going to offend anyone. This album will appeal most to fans of bands like Bread and America, but it’s hard to imagine someone actively seeking this type of music out, as the most exposure a soft rock band can really ever hope to get is through the adult contemporary radio stations that play in every dentists’ offices around the nation.