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The Whitsundays - The Whitsundays

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Artist: The Whitsundays

Album: The Whitsundays

Label: Friendly Fire

Review date: Apr. 15, 2008

Based in Edmonton, Alberta, but stylistically steeped in the so-called "Swingin' '60s" of London, the Whitsundays craft moddish pop that draws heavily from the Zombies, the Kinks, and any number of other acts of that ilk. Unlike the legends that it tries to approximate, the Whitsundays’ self-titled debut sounds less like an organic flourishing of ideas and more like an attempt to fit in as closely as possible with the sound of a particular decade. Employing vintage gear and excellent songwriting that sounds like a study in mid-'60s, psych-tinged pop conventions, the Whitsundays' evocation of the stylish sounds of the era is in some ways almost too perfect.

From the organ intro of “Loralee” onward, the disc brims with beautifully written and often quite familiar sonic simulacra. "Falling Over" is a near-dead ringer for the Zombies's "Tell Her No." The slow and dramatic "I Want it All" features a shimmering bombastic outro in which Paul Arnusch sings "Take me away / Far away from here," while the music behind it silently repeats the phrase "Hello. Goodbye.” "It Must Be Me" delivers perfect pieces of Pet Sounds; soaring, whispery background harmonies over synthesized staccato with a theremin warbling in the background.

But aping the Beach Boys at their most baroque is a delicate thing to attempt. As “It Must Be Me” continues through a round of “buh-ba-baba-bahs” sung with complete earnestness, the atmosphere turns schlocky. At other points, in “Falling Down,” for instance, the vocals strain to attain fey-ness, stretching to impose understated Britishness over tunes already replete with it.

It’s perfectly excusable that vocalist Arnusch doesn’t do Britishness quite as well as, say, Ray Davies. If the Whitsundays would benefit from a powerfully wistful vocalist along the lines of Stuart Murdoch, they still offer a decent enough approximation.

The Whitsundays is full of songs that are for the most part impeccably crafted, and intentionally created to sound like something playing on the stereo in Antonioni’s Blow-Up. It’s all there, from the sloppily soulful Rod Argent-style synth-solos to the ominously romantic anglophiliac storytelling. They can’t match the originals that they reference, but that’s neither a surprise nor a detriment.

By Matthew A. Stern

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