Each night this past summer ended with the same routine: me, my friends, Crosby the dog, a couple bags of Tostitos “Hint of Lime” chips, tropical mix Hi-Chews and banana bread (if it was a good night) all adorned by some nice citronella candles in my buddy Matt’s quintessentially Midwestern back yard.
Music played, too.
Often you hear people talk about their summer “song” or “anthem” or “jam.” Each of those terms are fairly clichéd, but that’s irrelevant. What’s more important is that, for any type of music to become at all emblematic of any amount of time, it needs to seep in organically. It should be there as you’re there — unforced and unprompted.
That’s just what happened with Whitney’s Light Upon the Lake. I don’t remember exactly when it started playing or how it was suggested. On the third, maybe fourth night in the backyard, however, someone had to notice. It’s good stuff. Julien Ehrlich’s voice is weepy, sensitive and unlike anything we had ever heard. Former Smith Westerns guitarist Max Kakacek’s gentle touch is quite complementary.
It’s not easy to quantify music. In fact, it’s more unnecessary and damaging to the experience than it is productive. That being said, looking back on it, each night now seems numbered, compartmentalized to its own tracklist. The first night we went to the backyard? That was definitely a Light Upon the Lake night. The night we sent our Elder friend off on his two year Mormon mission? “Golden Days” worked. Undoubtedly the best way to get a grip on what was happening was to embrace the soundtrack behind it. Whitney simply made too much sense for us to ignore.
On “The Falls,” for example, Ehrlich sounds confused, admitting, “Cause I’m not too sure I know / Which way the rising river flows / On the night I lose control / Oh dear, don’t you let me go,” stirring in all of us a dangerous cauldron of college-aged fear and anxiety. He also simultaneously highlights his own understanding of our need for togetherness — in that defining moment (whatever and whenever it is), in the uncertainty leading up to that moment and in the aftermath.
Maybe it’s that sort of wisdom that makes me giggle a little bit and even shed a tear whenever I talk about Whitney’s influence on our summer, until I realize that I’m acting like everybody’s grandfather. But that’s a really good thing; it speaks to the enduring quality of the album. However great our summer was, the ten tracks on Light Upon the Lake enhanced it on another level, and they followed us everywhere, in the best type of way.
Whether it was the delicate jam of “Dave’s Song” (“And I know how to keep you hung up but I won’t do it again / Oh I know I wish you were my friend”) or the adventure that is “No Matter Where We Go” (“I can take you out / I wanna drive around / With you with the windows down / And we can run all night”), there was a mood for everything.
We heard it after coming home from a Fourth of July party, during which we saw “acquaintances” from high school who we definitely had no desire to see again.
We heard it while camping at Devil’s Lake State Park in Wisconsin.
We most definitely heard it at Pitchfork Music Festival, where they played 20 feet in front of us.
And most importantly, we heard it at Matt’s house with the chips and Hi-Chews and dog and, most importantly, us.
I hope to hear Light Upon the Lake for a while even after this year. I’ve been listening as I walk around campus, but it isn’t quite the same. Whitney preached that “When it’s coming to an end, at least the rain won’t come again,” and it sure seems like something came to an end. I guess I’m just hoping something hits me again. I’d even take rain.