The Brag Media
News October 27, 2015

Album Review: Whitley – Even The Stars Are A Mess

Back in 2010 Greenwood shocked fans when amidst the success of his critically acclaimed sophomore Go Forth, Find Mammoth, he announced he was retiring the Whitley moniker.

Fed up with the business of music he went on a three-year hiatus, spent travelling and regaining his mojo, with a few stints in London and three months shacked up in an Amazonian village of the Shipibo people of Peru.

And somewhere along these travels he found the calm.

That’s not to say it was all smooth sailing for Greenwood. Perhaps giving insight into the album title, the recording of Even the Stars Are A Mess came with a long list of obstacles, both circumstantial and creative. Ongoing illness haltered Greenwood from recording in Peru and poor sound conditions in London and The Netherlands proved obstacles for production. But it seems these events gave Greenwood, who was at the end of a relationship with fellow singer Sarah Blasko, both the time and headspace to make something beautiful out of the thoughts swimming through his mind. Fate intervened and gave Greenwood and producer Colin Leadbetter the chance to record the third Whitley album in a former church, situated in the middle of a forest near Pisa, Italy.

Whether inspired by the location, his travels, or just having grown up a little, Even the Stars are a Mess is an intimate, sparse, and carefully-crafted offering by the 28-year-old singer-songwriter, who just last year said he felt limited by his music.

While Go Forth Find Mammoth exploded with electronic folk-pop, Even the Stars… lives in the realm of spiritual minimalism.

Opener, The Ballad of Terrence McKenna, is an apt example of the album’s stripped back approach. The track is a sparse and dark tone setter. Whitley’s Nike Drake-reminiscent croon is accompanied only by a hauntingly plucked guitar as he contrarily insists, “It’s not a mean world/ It’s beautiful/ I see it” – the repetition of this phrase building up to a swelling climax and then sharply dropping off. It introduces us to a theme of impermanence and acceptance, evident throughout the record.

In a similarly tender vain, My Heart Is Not A Machine showcases Whitley’s understated voice joined by the echoing harmonies of Esther Holt. A wistfully floating guitar hovers just above the haunting vocals, conveying a tender lament for love and realisation of loss.

But Whitey’s not all about pain and regret. In the uplifting Roadside he sings with a renewed sense of self assurance, “I’m alright now/I feel it in my bones now”. Perhaps making the best use of his unconventional recording space, the earnest proclamation is emphasised with an echoing organ and choir. Full of heart and warmth, it’s an honest and exciting new path for the young songwriter.

Clocking in at just 33 minutes, the album provides a short journey into Whitley’s emotional psyche. While the tone of Even the Stars Are A Mess centres upon introspection and a certain kind of sadness, repeat listenings of the album reveals glimpses of hope – a fragile, elusive kind of hope.


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