Saturday, September 2, 2023

CD Odyssey Disc 1672: Whitehorse

I’ve made it to a long weekend, and after a lot of travel last weekend (and more travel in my future) I’m looking forward to a few quiet days chilling with some of the people that I love.

Disc 1672 is…Modern Love

Artist: Whitehorse

Year of Release: 2021

What’s up with the Cover?  My best guess is that this is a burned Polaroid? Just behind the burned part you can see a portrait that would have made a perfectly fine album cover, which has been ruined. This cover feels like an inside joke between Luke and Melissa that they should have kept to themselves.

How I Came To Know It: I am a Whitehorse fan, and I was just buying their latest release and hoping for the best. This was one I bought shortly after being told that the local record store was open, which in the midst of the pandemic, was welcome news.

How It Stacks Up: “Modern Love” is neither their best nor their worst. I rank this record at #5 out of my eight Whitehorse albums.

Rating: 3 stars

“Modern Love” is a pandemic album and it sees Whitehorse doing what a lot of us did back in 2021 – finding solace in the familiar.

After 2017’s more experimental “Panther in the Dollhouse”, a few years (and some worldwide anxiety) later sees a record that takes some of those pop-infused lessons but marries them up with a sound more akin to their early work. This consists of a mix of Luke Doucet’s inspired rock guitar, and the country-tinged folk vocals of Melissa McLelland with a fair bit of loose harmony thrown in for good measure. There are some bells and whistles - organ and synth around the edges mostly - but it was great to hear the familiar style of a band I’ve come to know and love well over the years.

After a shaky start, with the trippy sixties styled (but ultimately draggy and boring) “Prototype” the duo go to the top shelf and bring down the good stuff for us. “I Wanna Make Promises (That I Can’t Keep)” is the “real” start of a record that pleasantly surprised me throughout.  

Promises…” is a song that showcases Whitehorse’s amazing ability to take simple scenes of domestic bliss and turn them into narrative art. Best verse:

Let’s argue in Ikea, make a scene, go home and f___.
On unassembled furniture fresh off the moving truck.
Let’s rifle through old photographs after the basement floods
Black and white and Polaroids on clotheslines up above.”

Could this be what happened to the photo on the cover? By which I mean water damage; the events from the first half of the stanza would at worst result in some creasing damage. In addition to playful and evocative lyrics, this song also has a lovely refrain of the title sung by Melissa McLelland that shows off sweetness in her voice, which is then counterpoised with Doucet’s big echoey guitar work.

“Relic in the New Age” follows that up and shows off the loose harmony stuff I mentioned earlier. As with all Whitehorse music, you can tell McLelland’s vocals could blow Doucet’s off the stage, but she is content to settle in and find a quieter space that makes both of them sound better together. Kind of like that domestic bliss in the previous track now that I think about it.

The record has a couple of weird little musical bits called “Interlude” and “Outro” which are both about as interesting as their titles suggest. This is the kind of fun stuff to do while you’re warming up or sitting around the studio playing with concepts, but it doesn’t belong on the record.

The last “real” song on the record (not including “Outro”) is also a good one. I’m not 100% sure what “Pollyanna” is about, I just know that it fills me with restless yearning, and I like the experience. The message being that if you find yourself not fitting into the life you’re in, then go find the life where you do. A kind-hearted and encouraging anthem for those who see the world a little differently.

“Modern Love” isn’t the first Whitehorse album you should check out, but it is a worthy entry into their catalogue and one I’ll be putting on more often now that the Odyssey’s random selection process reminded me of its existence.

Best tracks: I Wanna Make Promises (That I Can’t Keep), Relic in the New Age, Best Bet, Pollyanna

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