Forever Turned Around is striking in its warmth.
Old pop music seems to become chic in cycles, and lately it appears as if the 1970s are having a moment within certain spheres of indie rock. Just as the pioneering sounds of disco and funk are being re-appreciated by a new generation of listeners who grew up without the “disco sucks” baggage of older generations, there seems to be a whole host of indie bands embracing the soft rock sounds of the Me Decade in a way that would have been a total non-starter just a few years prior. On a certain level, it makes sense: a generation of people who have just found out that the planet is irrevocably doomed might long for the sort of sweet, pastoral folk-rock that came out of southern California back then. And sure, it would then be easy to write off a band like Whitney as mere imitators, a band reliant on familiar sounds rather than original ideas. However, Forever Turned Around, the band’s second album, uses this familiar musical language to tell a story far removed from the self-satisfied soul-searching of the past.
As with their debut, Light Upon the Lake, Forever Turned Around is striking in its warmth. Julien Ehrlich’s rounded, smooth vocals are a subtly commanding presence, inviting with a tone that recalls a plaintive kindness. It’s the perfect vessel through which he and co-writer Max Kakacek explore the lyrical themes of the album, which focus around relationships and connections to other people. This isn’t a romantic album, in the traditional sense: there are periods where romance is referenced, but the connections that Whitney are exploring here are the kind between friends as well as lovers. A theme of loneliness as a natural part of life comes and goes throughout Forever Turned Around, implying that a state of isolation is a recurring problem in life, one that must be risen above when it comes. Although it’s one of the album’s low-tempo numbers, “Used to Be Lonely” is a moment of fleeting joy in which Ehrlich celebrates a new love or friendship, yet there’s a hint of trepidation that it could all go away quickly. Forever Turned Around is an album about appreciating the small moments we have with each other because they’re more fleeting than we realize.
While Forever Turned Around explores new lyrical depths in Whitney’s songwriting, the band’s sound remains virtually unchanged. One could split hairs about this and take it as a sign of a band unwilling to be adventurous and explore new avenues, but Whitney’s core sound more or less works for what they do, and if anything, Forever Turned Around is a more pleasing listen than their debut was. While the previous record found the band making some tenuous musical decisions in the name of figuring out who they were, Around is the work of a band resolute in their style and in their artistic intent. Sure, their inspirations are a bit self-evident; one can’t hear Kakacek’s weeping guitar tone and not think of George Harrison circa 1973. But that familiarity only goes further to establish the mood of comfort and solace that Whitney are fostering here.
To an extent, Whitney are embracing being a band out of time on Forever Turned Around. After all, there isn’t much distance between the band’s longing for personal connection in the modern day and an older person complaining about how the youngs spend too much time on their phones rather than talking to people. But calling Whitney old souls would be reductive; rather, they recognize the problems with the world they currently live in, and they’re making their way as best they can. That’s essentially the spirit of an album like Forever Turned Around: you got to keep on keepin’ on.