The Whitsundays are the weird and wonderful musical brainchild of Edmonton, Alberta's Paul Arnusch. The world first heard from them when their compact, catchy pop jewel of a first album came out in 2008, but in the meantime Arnusch's vision has grown and mutated tremendously.
This time around his sophomore album Saul, which Arnusch recorded in his own basement over the course of a snowy Canadian winter, is much different. Saul is a pop opus suitable for the rainiest days or the most star-filled nights, a resplendent collection of vintage psychedelia and jangly pop, yet also something much darker and stranger than anything the Whitsundays have done before. The Whitsundays’ epoynmous debut album, released on Friendly Fire Recordings in early 2008, caught the ear of a lot of people - including Rolling Stone, who called them "the next big Canadian indie supergroup." Fueled by the generous accolades they were receiving and a hefty dollop of willpower, Arnusch (who also plays in dream-pop luminaries Faunts) spent a successful year touring and playing festivals, including VirginFest Calgary, CMJ and Sled Island. For Saul, Arnusch hibernated in his basement, not only taking on the role as writer, performer and producer, but this time isolating himself one step deeper and engineering the album as well. The result is an album that is every bit as catchy as the Whitsundays' first album, but at the same time more personal and revealing - these are still melodic pop songs, but there's something deeper lurking within. Saul is an emotional dawn-to-dusk carnival of sounds and songs, still holding on to the 60s-hearkening pop sensibilities that defined the debut album. This time around, however, Arnusch has let go of the rollercoaster’s handles and thrown his arms in the air, abandoning the strict song structures of the Whitsundays' debut album for a more visceral and expansive sound. Arnusch manages to combine the harmonic textural elements of the Byrds, in songs like “I Can't Get Off of my Cloud", with the sincerity and distress of Galaxie 500, on “Oh Madeline”. He adds a smashing psychedelic pop hit chorus into "You Fell for It", and then in later tracks references both the strange alien wit of heroic David Bowie and the carefully sculpted noisy reverb of Ariel Pink.
Despite these subtle nods, The Whitsundays rule over a kingdom that’s all their own, a place of half-remembered shadows and fresh blood. It’s music that removes the listener from the siege mentality of this decaying world. Arnusch is not without help - his supporting band, which contains members of another critically-acclaimed Edmonton group called Shout Out Out Out Out, consists of Lyle Bell, Nickelas Johnson, Aaron Parker, and Aiden Lucas-Buckland. The rest of this merry band make appearances throughout the album, which helps flesh Saul out even further. Despite the new direction in tempo and texture that the Whitsundays have taken with Saul, there’s a common mood, an ethereal feeling that bonds these songs together. To the casual listener, it may just be another catchy pop record, and indeed the songs here are superlatively catchy. But take heed: there's something else at work here: inside these pop songs is something strange, waiting to rise to the surface.