Whitey has indicated that this latest album might be his last and Lost Summer’s resolute lack of daylight certainly makes it seem like this Might Be It. Not that 2010’s Canned Laughter was a sunlit stroll in park, but it seemed to be the end result of massive dickery, specifically Whitey’s intended sophomore album Great Shakes being handed out to the internet via the all-too-popular delivery system known as “leakage by ‘journalist'”. Canned Laughter was a dysphoric ( the opposite of “euphoric” and just why the hell isn’t that a word, Chrome?) examination the world in general, heavily influenced by a back full of knife wounds. It was hoped that with this event relegated to the past, Whitey would be right back on track (and possibly, a label) and ready to lay down another set of tuneful cynicism mixed with large doses of fully-exposed heart.
But as best laid plans go, they went, disappearing into the night with not as much as a chaste kiss on cheek and vague promises of calling “sometime.” Whitey spent the next year and change approaching label after label with no success. For awhile it seemed as though Dim Mak (which handled distribution of his debut in the US) might pick up his (at that point untitled) followup to Canned Laughter, but that deal fell through, sending Whitey looking for other options.
When not being turned down cold, Whitey was also “offered” so-funny-I-might-die 360 contracts that promised to take half of everything he made in exchange for little more than vague distribution assistance. While I can appreciate the fact that today’s climate (for lack of a better, more concise word) makes it extremely difficult to sell tons of music, it seems as though a label might be able to do something better than offer to take half of any income that might trickle in if you can somehow manage to work past their active disinterest and bring in a little cash.
So, Whitey took matters into his own hands, going direct and offering up his latest, Lost Summer, via Bandcamp. While this does mean that a majority of the income ends up in his pockets, it also requires that he turn himself into his own pimp. Not that artists have ever been able to completely avoid turning themselves out on the proverbial corner to make money, but along with the monetary advantages of a self-release comes the realization that you’ll be spending a lot of your time contorted into various awkward positions in order to drive listeners to your stuff, all while hopefully avoiding the appearance of running a one-man spam botnet.
You add this all up and you get Lost Summer, an “It is finished” of an album. It doesn’t make the error of blaming the world for being the world, a generally shitty place filled with generally shitty people, but instead moves past denial into acceptance. Things are the way things are, and if that’s the case, this is where Whitey (very possibly) gets off. “It’s been fun and all, but I think I’m completely funned out.”
In addition to the general bleakness of the album, Whitey has gone much heavier with the electronics, delivering a set of songs that, while very much Whitey, sound like the darker moments (and there’s a lot of those) in Fluke/Syntax’s catalog (especially the latter).
Lost Summer throws down bad vibes right out of the gate, opening with tortured strains of Also sprach Zarathustra, performed with piss-take gusto by what sounds like a drunken elementary school band on the verge of flunking out. The front-loaded sarcastic portentousness drops into a slumming, scuzzy bassline before the drums arrive, along with Whitey’s opening statement:
Whatever’s to be is gone
And all that is left is ashes
There are bigger issues at play in Nobody Made the Monster, but it’s hard to avoid reading Whitey’s personal and artistic struggles into the narrative.
Brief and Bright uses slightly warmer tones to deliver its “live each day as though it were your last” message, a simple, affirming statement safely inoculated against over-enthusiasm by the recognition that living this way takes it own toll. Two or three decades down the road, it’s hard to tell those who cared too much from those who never cared at all. The candle that burns twice as bright, etc.
People implicates mankind for its duplicitous nature, led by dirge-like organ tones. Saturday Night Ate Our Lives is Sorted For E’s & Wizz twenty years down the road, exhausted by long weekends of losing it and the longer weeks of trying to recover everything given away so freely mere days before.
It’s not all gloom and doom-laden chords, however. The title track bustles along at a cheerful pace even if the lyrics don’t necessarily match the mood. If this were the sort of a situation where anyone was concerned with a leadoff single, Lost Summer would be the front-runner. Deadeyes bangs along like Wrap It Up v.2, sounding a bit like Digitalism but with lyrics you’ll actually care about.
There’s plenty of hooks that’ll catch in your head and most of it rivals the best stuff on Great Shakes. It’s a stronger, more cohesive work than Canned Laughter even if the trajectory of the mood picks up right where that album left off. (On the edge of a cliff. With the world shouting “Jump!”) It might be resolutely grim but it’s not as if no one’s ever crafted great albums out of pain and darkness. (See also: Disintegration, OK Computer, pretty much everything by the Antlers…)
And is that hope (of all things) I hear in the last track (See You Next Time)? [A track, by the way, that rivals my all-time favorite Whitey song, Made of Night, in scope and impossibly beautiful sadness.) A promise escaping the wan smile that is Lost Summer?
Some see the signs
Say life’s a circle not a line
And we’ll be back another time
It might be. Whitey said this one could be his final album. The last track leaves the door cracked open for a sequel. But even if nothing else appears, it’s been an exhilarating ride.