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Whitney Shuns Buzz Band Banality on 'Light Upon the Lake'

Music ReviewSean McHughComment

No band in the history of everything has managed to avoid “death” in the sense that all bands – from The Beatles to your favorite local proto-punk-neo-folk-soul group – break up for one reason or another, with varying degrees of adversity and dramaticism. Obviously, The Beatles disbanded in 1970, but weren’t “definitively” broken up until Mark David Chapman read Catcher in the Rye in December of 1980, and as far your favorite local proto-punk-neo-folk-soul group is concerned, their drummer Keith was promoted to the late shift manager at Starbucks, so he won’t be able to practice most evenings, and proto-punk-neo-folk-soul drummers are at a premium in Des Moines. But silly comparisons aside, band breakups are rarely ever a joyous occurrence – tensions run high, bridges are burned, and once-hopeful fans are left with a finite discography.

So, when a particularly “buzzy” band such as Smith Westerns calls it a quits, the resulting career uncertainty for the former members can become increasingly unsettling to the devout follower. Fortunately, the legacy that follows Smith Westerns’ end looks to be far more promising than whatever outlook the original group may have had. Former front-man Cullen Omori made his way over to Sub Pop and released his solid solo debut with New Misery in March, and now, former Smith Westerns drummer Julien Ehrlich (who also had a stint in Unknown Mortal Orchestra) and guitarist Max Kackacek have banded together to form Whitney, and release a wonderfully jangly 70s-revival debut record, Light Upon the Lake.

Light Upon the Lake begins with a stellar album opener in “No Woman,” a seemingly mawkish entrance that meanders aimlessly as Ehrlich’s soft-cooing vocals opine about waking up in Los Angeles and experiencing an indefinite and tiresome change. Kackacek’s deceptively smooth '70s Martin-esque riffs eventually lead the track in a decidedly more confident direction, with a cacophony of horns closing out the introductory track. The succeeding tracks on Light Upon the Lake see an uptick in tone and vibrancy as “The Falls” feels like a mix of Vulfpeck percussive piano playful nudging Ehrlich’s lyrical musings on losing control, leading into “Golden Days,” the wax poetic (and indie rock right of passage) chronicling of some relationship passed (can’t help but think there might be some Smith Westerns undertones) – “It’s a shame we can’t get it together now.”

Where many might try and incorporate aspects of past projects into their current one, Whitney does a fantastic of presenting a definite tone and substantive grip of who Whitney is, namely in the band’s consistent use of horns, bouncing piano, and clean Martin riffs deftly maneuvered by Kackacek – especially on the album’s eponymous standout, “Light Upon the Lake.” The overall feel of Light Upon the Lake could be likened to The Band meets UMO with flecks of Vulfpeck and Blake Mills – in short, its wholly unique. The album features a number of punk sensibilities when it comes to lyrical verisimilitude and general brevity – the three song stretch of “No Matter Where I Go,” “On My Own,” and “Red Moon” runs a whopping 5:38 – with “On My Own” into “Red Moon” being the most impressive track pairing of the bunch, primarily for the excellent showcasing of horns mixed with Kackacek’s ever-tasteful licks. All in all, the two strongest aspects of Light Upon the Lake are Kackacek’s guitar expertise and the incorporation of harmonious brass work – making the record distinctly modern but also managing to hearken back to a softer time in rock music.

Light On the Lake closes out as sweetly and satisfyingly as it opened, with the uber-funk fuzz of “Polly” marking it as best track on the album, a soft cooing-ballad that has features undertones of disenchanted realism under the guise of happy rhythms and horns. The album closes with “Follow” - the sonic sibling of “Polly” – setting Light On the Lake’s with as positive an outlook as any debut featuring lyrics like “I know I’ll hear the call any time…” that lend credence to the visionary nature of Light On the Lake as a whole. “Follow” allows the record to help establish Whitney as more than just another buzz band, but rather a supremely melancholic (but not miserable) introduction steeped with perspective that maintains an ultimately warm purview of the band’s future. Expect to see Light Upon the Lake on many a "year end" list, including Transverso's, as the record exemplifies the ideal dulcet tones of an indie band debut.  

Chance the Rapper Reflects on the City That Made Him in 'Coloring Book'

Music ReviewEric FracComment

“And we back, and we back, and we back, and we back!” Chicago’s very own Chance the Rapper has finally released his much-anticipated third mixtape, Coloring Book, formerly known as Chance 3, and it’s got everyone excited for the summer that’s just around the corner. Yes, Chance is back, and so much better than before. In an interview with Complex, Chance summed up the hype leading up to Coloring Book: “This stuff is way better than Surf. I’ll say that on record. Donnie [Trumpet] is awesome, and the project was awesome, but this is all of us focusing our efforts into some hip-hop and some very dance-y shit, and it feels good. So I’m excited about that.”

When I first heard Chance on his 10 Day mixtape I walked with a newfound pep in my step in between classes; frankly it was one of my first exposures to hip hop songs that weren’t all about money, drugs, and women, and it was a very fresh breath of new life into my then stagnant hip hop playlist. This was music you could vibe to, music that made you genuinely smile because it made you want to dance. It seemed impossible to find someone who genuinely didn’t like Chance the Rapper, and he quickly rose to the top of Chicago’s hip hop scene without having anything to do with the drill music that has all but completely dominated the local scene.

Coming in at 14 songs deep, Coloring Book is no different, so grab a friend, take a deep breath, and just let the joy and beauty that is ‘Coloring Book’ dance into your ears as it makes you feel that sometimes rare emotion: pure happiness.

“All We Got (ft. Kanye West, Chicago Children’s Choir)”

Staying true to the beautiful sound of the trumpet, the song starts off with the familiar, “And we back, and we back, and we back, and we back, and we back,” and I can’t help but crack a smile already. Chance is back. The song features a powerful message delivered to the listeners by yours truly, Yeezus himself: “Music is all we got, living is all we got, so we might as well give it all we got The song is a fitting introduction to the project, and with a feature from Chance’s favorite hometown hero Kanye West it seems that Chance’s gospel sound on "Ultralight Beam" have carried over into Coloring Book, and it’s got everyone rejoicing.

“No Problem (ft. Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz)”

Let me be one of the first to say that this song will be one of the anthems of your summer. The song has everything it needs to be a radio hit; a catchy hook, a feature from 2 Chainz AND Lil Wayne, and a beat that you can’t help but bop your head to. "No Problem" is a warning to all the record labels trying to sign Chance: he’s not about it, and he wants to make it clear through lines like, “If one more label try to stop me / It’s gon’ be some dreadhead niggas in ya lobby.” You don’t want any problems with Chance, and he’s going to keep on doing what he’s doing whether others like it or not. 2 Chainz and Wayne do their thing on the song, each with their own flow that compliments the beat. Wayne also references his own struggle with his former record label Cash Money not letting him release "Tha Carter V,” with, “If that label try and stop me / There gon’ be some crazy Weezy fans waitin’ in the lobby.”

“Summer Friends (ft. Jeremih, Francis And The Lights)”

Growing up on the southside of Chicago, Chance reminds everyone about just how deadly the violence really is. He raps about how it’s the first day of summer and people are already shooting each other, and there are less and less students in summer school because of it. Sadly, “Summer friends don’t stay around here” is a stark reminder that the this is still a huge issue in the community, and the pain of losing his friends during the summertime still stuck with Chance.

“D.R.A.M Sings Special”

The shortest song on the project is a repeated verse in a soulful type lullaby by the Virginia rapper D.R.A.M who has collaborated with Chance through Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment, and it’s a deep message that reminds us all that we truly are special. Each and everyone one of us has talents and gifts that they were born with, and we need to be reminded that nobody is a nobody. The interlude preaches a message of self-confidence as well as inspiration to create yourself. Positive vibes all around.

“Blessings”

A testament to God, Chance isn’t afraid to show his devotion to his religion. He also touches on the Black Lives Matter movement as well as the birth of his daughter. A feel-good gospel song, and some emotional lyrics from Chance further solidify this track’s place in the project. Jamila Woods adds the cherry on top with her voice that makes you just want to throw your hands up in the air and praise whatever god(s) there may or may not be.

“Same Drugs”

“Same Drugs” is Chance’s farewell song to the drug taking persona he exuded during his days of Acid Rap, highlighting how he’s matured as a person to be a father for his daughter. He reminisces about the old days, but it’s on a positive note with no regrets. He thinks back to his carefree days as a child where everything was still filled with wonder, and even alludes to Peter Pan when Peter told the kids, “All you need is happy thoughts” to fly, as Chance encourages his daughter (who is referenced to as "Dandelion") to think happy thoughts, and in turn she will be a happy child growing up.

“Mixtape (ft. Young Thug, Lil Yachty)”

Wow, where to begin. First of all, Chance the Rapper + Young Thug + Lil Yachty? Never in a million years would I have even dreamed of those two on a Chance song, and yet this turned out to be one of my favorite songs off the project. Thugger and Yachty discuss their concern for the music industry losing it’s legitimacy by somewhat ignoring mixtapes. Yachty recently debuted his first official mixtape, and he’s bound to be one of the fastest rising stars in the scene in 2016. Young Thug on the other hand is becoming a much more common name now that Kanye has even had him featured on The Life Of Pablo, but the real fans knew that Thugger has built his career on his mixtapes, especially with his Slime Season collection. Chance feels like the industry is warping the minds and vision of artists who no longer release music for the passion but instead for commercialized purposes. Young Thug said it best: “How can they call themselves bosses when they got so many bosses?”

Angels (ft. Saba)”

A true dedication to the city that raised and made him, Chance pours his heart out to his fellow Chicagoans with fellow Chicago-native Saba on "Angels." In it, Chance talks about how he grew as an artist and he expresses his love for his hometown, complete with a music video featuring gorgeous shots of the city from an L train. It just makes me so happy and actually made me crack a damn smile, because for once I get to see a Chicago hip-hop music video that doesn’t have a single gun being waved at the camera, and that doesn’t have to do with what people label as “the dark side of Chicago” hip hop. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the Chicago drill scene as well as all the new talent that’s sprouting out from it, but I am fully aware of the hardships and problems that have been going on in Chicago’s southside communities. The systematic segregation of the city as well as the fake war on drugs has ravished the communities, and the violence has always spiked during the summer. Chicago needs something to help start working toward solutions to the countless problems with the city, but Chicago will always have hope. Chance is willing to live and die for this city because he believes in it, and so do I.

“Juke Jam (ft. Justin Bieber)”

A song about Chance’s teenage years and an innocent relationship that he says he was too young to be able to take it to a sexual level. "Juke Jam" is sensual while keeping it innocent. The song’s chorus sung by fellow Savemoney rapper and Chicago-native Towkio is a vocal interpolation on R. Kelly’s "Feelin' On Your Booty," and damn it’s good. Bieber comes on here a couple times to do his thing with the song’s bridges, and the whole song just flows together extremely smooth. You’d be lying if you said this song didn’t make you feel some type of way with your special someone.

“All Night ft. Knox Fortune”

Goddamn it’s hard to not jump up and get groovy to this one. Chance proves he can be one funky dude on this track as he raps about how everyone’s drunk and trying to be friends with him now that he’s got fame and success. Chance tells them to give him his space and he just wants his friends and himself to just enjoy the party. Chance promised Coloring Book to be filled with “dance-y shit,” and it’s safe to say he delivered on that promise. This beat alone makes it worthy of a lengthy run in TV / film placements, and it’s a jam that can be played at parties and clubs alike.

“How Great (ft. My Cousin Nicole)”

Continuing on the religious themes prevalent throughout the mixtape, "How Great" is a continuation of Chance praising God. Chance’s actual cousin named Nicole opens the track up with a sample from Chris Tomlin’s "How Great is Our God"; the song is a great gospel addition to the project. Jay Electronica, a Muslim producer, does wonders to the track, and Chance himself throws in Christian rhetoric as he talks about worship and praise.

“Smoke Break (ft. Future)”

What a time to be alive. Chanco and Future Hendrix on the same track? What?! And it worked! Chance rapped about how he used to smoke out of a bowl because it’s much easier and quicker to do since his life is so hectic, and Future is looking for his queen to share his clean molly and whips with wings with, and there’s even what seems like a subliminal shot at Desiigner: “I got designer galore,” which could easily be Future’s passive aggressive ways of saying Desiigner is getting big off of Future’s sound. Guess we have to wait for Desiigner to drop his second official song to see.

“Finish Line / Drown (ft. T-Pain, Kirk Franklin, Noname, Eryn Allen Kane)”

The longest song on Coloring Book, "Finish Line" features veterans and up and coming artists praising the greatness of God and how far they’ve come thanks to him. The first part of the song "Finish Line" features Chance and T-Pain talk about their devotion to God, and how it's helped them to “see the finish line”. The second part, "Drown," features two up-and-coming female rappers from Chicago by the names of Eryn Allen Kane and Noname as they talk about how God has helped them out through their hardships in life, and they remind you that through God you will never drown. Beautiful analogy of how even though the water is deeper than it’s ever been and how life may seem harder than it has ever before, with the help of God you won’t drown and you will be able to get through anything.

“Blessings (Reprise)”

The conclusion to Coloring Book, Chance basically thanks God for how far he’s gotten and for everything that he’s been able to accomplish. Honestly, another work of art, and a fantastic way for the project to come to a close. Uncredited support from the likes of B.J The Chicago Kid and Ty Dolla $ign, amongst others, the song wraps everything that Chance is about up nicely in a song and reminds us just how gifted Chance really is. With God to thank, Chance is ever grateful for everything that he’s been able to achieve, and the dreams that he has still to set out and accomplish.

 

            Wow, what a ride. Coloring Book was well worth the wait, and it further solidified Chance’s spot amongst Chicago’s legends. With Kanye’s stamp of approval, the messiah of Chicago addresses his come up and how the city made him who he is, and Chance makes sure to pay tribute to that throughout the project. God also plays a major role in Chance’s life and career, and he thanks God for everything that he’s given to Chance and all the times that God has been there for Chance through difficult times in life. This is a project you can smile while listening, and something that will make you want to dance until you drop when you hear “All Night” at the next party you go to. He’s not just another Chicago rapper, he’s an artist, a believer, and an ambassador of positive vibes set out to remind us not to give up, better days are just around the corner.

EXCLUSIVE PREMIERE: Strange Heights Set out For "Home" in Second Single

Exclusive Premiere, New MusicWeston PaganoComment

Following debut single "Believe Me," Chicago-based newcomers Strange Heights are revealing the second track from their forthcoming self-titled EP, "Home" through Transverso Media.

Soft strings and xylophone plinks beckon you in, swirling around gentle vocal harmonies grappling lyrically with setting out against adversity and, ultimately, finding home. Flirting with the boundaries between folk and rock, Strange Heights fit the puzzle of their six-piece together to uplifting results.

Keyboardist and backing vocalist Nic Ten Grotenhuis tells Transverso, "'Home' is about perseverance in the face of resistance and about how passionate we are about music."

Formed last September, Strange Heights finished recording a four song EP just two months later, with Strange Heights due out May 15.

Edward Sharpe Is Dead: Alex Ebert on The Magnetic Zeros' Pursuit of Failure, Identity, and Unrealism

Music InterviewWeston PaganoComment

Despite the much bemoaned departure of band co-founder Jade Castrinos following their last full-length, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros still had 10 different musicians packed on the tiny stage at Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music in an intricate intertwining of instruments and personality. It was not immediately clear, however, if their eponymous, messianic leader himself would appear, as his name was crossed off the bill.