By Halley Freger
Grinnell Concerts is ending the year with two of the most highly anticipated shows. This Saturday, Alex Cameron and Whitney play Gardner Lounge at 9 p.m. while Frankie Cosmos plays Gardner next Thursday, May 11 at 8 p.m.
Although Chicago-based band Whitney is relatively new, they’ve achieved a shocking amount of success since they formed in 2015. This past summer, they played at both Bonnaroo and the Pitchfork Music Festival, solidifying the band as a prominent indie act. Although Bonnaroo was their first festival as Whitney, the members of the band are no strangers to the indie rock scene. Guitarist Max Kakacek and drummer Julien Ehrlich, who also played drums for Unknown Mortal Orchestra, originally formed Whitney after playing together in the Smith Westerns, a glam infused indie rock band.
Now a band with seven members, Whitney is sure to be a great live show. Although their music is mellow, harkening back to 2007 and the glory days of mellow indie rock, it has an undeniably whimsical and upbeat quality. The band thoughtfully infuses psychedelic pop and indie rock, but most interesting is their inclusion of Jim Ford-inspired country soul.
Their debut album “Light Upon the Lake” doesn’t turn its back on familiar indie tropes of folk and country, but builds on them. Funky guitar flourishes back a falsetto reminiscent of Bon Iver. Their music doesn’t feel nostalgic, but like a natural evolution of genres. The opening track “No Woman” is simultaneously simple and mesmerizing, exemplifying their style. The muted song seamlessly combines strings and soulful guitar, but builds to an exhilarating horn section that feels like a warm embrace.
Although a lot of seasoned indie rock dudes take themselves too seriously, Whitney appears to be having fun, sometimes even making out with each other during live performances. Kakacek and Ehrlich have worked on other projects, but now it’s their chance to experiment artistically. They seem to enjoy the freedom and the sweetness in their warm-weather music sounds like a reflection of the joy with which it was created.
On Saturday, Alex Cameron will open for Whitney. Cameron is an Australian musician, singer and songwriter who blurs the boundaries between performer and character through his high-concept music in which he plays the role of a failed entertainer. His album “Jumping the Shark” was re-released last year on Secretly Canadian after initially being released independently on Cameron’s website.
The album seamlessly blends his own experiences with that of this created persona. Throughout the album, he sings in a haunting, reverberating baritone over droning and twinkling synths. The album closes with “Taking Care of Business,” which creates a dark, moody atmosphere, but builds into a hypnotic synth pop jam.
Previously, Cameron would even perform in character by applying latex wrinkle scars, and pockmarks to his face. With or without the makeup, Cameron has a special talent in making down-on-their-luck characters come to life through his rich storytelling music. He’s not only concerned with the music, but with the full performance, and we’re lucky to have a chance to see him live at Grinnell this Saturday in Gardner.
Finally, Grinnell Concerts will wrap up its spring lineup with Frankie Cosmos. Frankie Cosmos is the project of Greta Kline, who originally began releasing lo-fi recordings on Bandcamp under the name Ingrid Superstar and went on to play bass in the band Porches.
With her project Frankie Cosmos, Kline has come a long way from her early days as Ingrid Superstar. However, although she now plays with a full band, their music maintains an intensely personal, bedroom pop sound. On their second album “Next Thing,” the songs may appear low-key at first, but they retain a deep, poetic intimacy. Kline opens the song “Embody” with the beautifully composed line, “Some day in bravery I’ll embody all the grace and lightness.” She packs elegant significance into each poetic line and delivers it all in an effortless singing style reminiscent of artists such as Kimya Dawson, revealing her anti-folk influences.
This year, Frankie Cosmos signed with Sub Pop records and announced they’re working on a new album. Don’t miss the opportunity to see them on Thursday, May 11 at 8 p.m. in Gardner Lounge.