Whitney find themselves by exploring others
Talking about covers is hard, and talking about a cover album is even harder. The project is going to be inherently unfocused, especially when the original compositions come from a variety of different genres and any lyrical issues with the project are basically null and void, as even if a new musical backdrop fits the writing better, faults with the words themselves were there from the beginning and thus the new artist can’t be held accountable for them. For example, one of the biggest covers of the past few years was Lana Del Rey’s “Doin Time,” which turned an already messy Sublime track into a slice of bland elevator music. The biggest problem with it is a bridge of pure melodramatic venom, yet how much can Del Ray be critiqued for that when Sublime is responsible for it? There are still plenty of strong cover records out there, but it’s rare to find one that stands out as the best in a band’s discography like Whitney’s third record Candid.
Whitney was always a novel band filling the gap between folk, indie rock and alt-country, with a lead singer who sang in almost nothing but falsetto. There are moments where it came together into something haunting and engrossing, especially “No Women,” but the majority of their first two records suffer by trying to be too many things. They are too lush and stuffed with instrumentation to be chilling lo-fi music, yet the recording is too dry and the vocal performance too lethargic and stuffy for big, anthemic moments.
Candid’s biggest improvement over previous releases does come from the vocals of Julian Ehrlich. Outside of a boilerplate rendition of John Denver’s classic “Take Me Home, Country Roads” that features Ehrlich at his sleepiest, his performances sound a lot more passionate, and his falsetto is more engaging even on the calmer cuts. The two reimaginings of R&B songs, that being Kelela’s “Bank Head” and SVV’s “Rain,” are the highlights of the record with tons of convincing soul that Ehrlich previously did not seem capable of. A big part of the appeal of those two songs also comes in the production. The former lets every sparse piano note ring out across the mix, while the latter has a beautiful organ melody, delicate violins and vocal harmonies that invigorate rather than shrink and compress.
It’s not like Whitney does anything wild or off-the-wall, but the music isn’t as washed out, and the instrumentation has more life and texture to it. The guitars on “Rainbow & Ridges” and “Hammond Song” are authentic country in their melancholy and grit, and the vocals and injections of horns and violins don’t feel like they are getting lost in the shuffle. The overall mood is still pretty laid-back, but their rendition of Brian Eno and David Byrne’s “Strange Overtones” has sharper grooves in the acoustics and the organs and the final crescendo of “Crying, Laughing, Loving, Lying” is one of their most-satisfying on a compositional level. Though they have not reinvented themselves, the process of making Candid and covering these songs has lead Whitney to put forth the best rendition of their calm, lush, falsetto-dominated style.