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Songs We Love: Whitney, 'No Woman'

The band Whitney's Max Kakacek and Julien Ehrlich, formerly of Smith Westerns, wrote their debut album, Light Upon The Lake, while swapping song ideas and breakup stories during a Chicago winter. The album came out in June, but after a couple of months in the summer sun, it finally feels ripe. Warmth radiates off this folky, big-band rock record, which is equipped with sweet guitar strumming and vocals as fuzzy as old memories. These are songs of recollection, of bygone days, and it's fitting that you listen after they have had time to settle.

Whitney, <em>Light Upon The Lake </em>
/ Courtesy of the artist
Courtesy of the artist
Whitney, Light Upon The Lake

Settling happens not to be on the agenda, however, in "No Woman," the album's first track. The song's narrator flings himself onto a train with a drink in his hand, finds himself by the coast and ends up driving home in the dark, apparently adrift without a cause. Yet this is no aimless road trip: In the short, plaintive chorus — "No woman/No woman," delivered alongside ambling guitar plucks — we get our glimpse of the titular woman and realize that the narrator is not just an itinerant, but a fugitive from hard feelings. It sounds like an accidental dispatch, murmured as if in a fitful sleep — and we happen to be eavesdropping. In but a few words, the thought of her suffuses the atmosphere like the heat outside.

"No Woman" succeeds in making us feel displaced, even though we end up where we started. The song begins, seems to end and then restarts with new words that carry the same muddled sentiments; like the narrator, it moves on without really moving on. We meet him in medias res, plodding toward the transition he knows must come: "I've been going through a change/I might never be sure/I'm just walking in a haze/I'm not ready to turn." In the second half, the lyrics are buffeted by an increasingly rhythmic current and accompanied by glimmers of violin, piano and trumpet that swell until the song is nearly over. Then, those auxiliary sounds back away to leave Ehrlich singing over a lone guitar, just as he began. We've returned after some time on the road, but the haze still has yet to clear.

Light Upon The Lake is out now on Secretly Canadian.

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