Though indie rock darlings tend to hide behind the music, the very young Omori is proof that personalities still matter. His is, appropriately in 2016, deployed primarily via social media, and even in the annals of rock ‘n’ roll egotists, his behavior is unprecedented: he complained about not receiving a Pitchfork review of his album, negative or otherwise, and then, weeks later, tweeted about how upset he was at the negative review of the album. He also repeatedly trashes on ’70s guitar rock revivalists — which, if you boiled them down, would be a perfect way to describe Whitney.
Kakacek and Ehrlich have been handling things the opposite way, using words like “lucky” in interviews (there have been a lot of interviews) and releasing a string of singles that, yeah, sound plucked from vintage home movies. They’ve also been on tour well in advance of the release of this album, and refuse to name names in interviews, mentioning only “the previous band.” It’d be easy to say this was just the guys trying to distance themselves from their past, but Ehrlich was also a member of Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and he speaks highly of that band’s work ethic while covertly slamming the “personalities” of Smith Westerns.
Band turmoil typically isn’t interesting fodder, but it’s fascinating to see how the contrasting attitudes of the artists influenced the sound of their post-break-up projects, as well as how they’re received. A key point is that these artists have been presented through different narratives, even though they’re all former members of the same band. Omori is seen as the band leader who has to pick up the pieces of his broken vehicle. Whitney, on the other hand, gets to begin again; their narrative focuses mostly on Kakacek and Ehrlich’s bonding through simultaneous heartbreaks, and the ease they discovered as co-writers. It’s clear that the slash-and-burn technique of Whitney lends itself to open arms, subconsciously or not, though, as Omori points out, that could also have to do with Light Upon The Lake‘s trendy yacht rock revival.
We’ve seen in interviews and on his Twitter feed that Omori longs for the (relatively small) spotlight he had while in Smith Westerns, but his eagerness seems to have turned off critics, who largely ignored his album at the time of its release. In the end, New Misery expands on the sound he’d curated in his band and is the best bet for fans looking for another does of puffed up glam rock. Meanwhile, Kakacek and Ehrlich have managed to capitalize on their former achievements while at the same time distancing themselves from them. It’s an admirable move, but the cynic has to ask: If it weren’t for the Smith Westerns connection, would the band have such a pile of press prior to the release of their first album? Probably not. But, in the end, it doesn’t matter. Light Upon The Lake is a solid album, maybe summer’s best chance for a rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack.