Whitney K – ‘Mixtape’

Review by Kieran Blake

Whitney K is the latest musical project of Konnor Whitney, who for many years released his music under the band name ‘Koko’, a nickname, but very much a band.

By changing into Whitney K it seems Koko has erased the history of his nicknamed band to better represent his current state with the almost clinical moniker of “Whitney K”; a name on a chart or an attendance sheet – a name stripped of any glaze or history. Having lived in the Yukon, Los Angeles, Vancouver, and most recently Montreal, the ‘Koko’ releases have always reflected a time and place in the songwriter’s life; “Mixtape” is no different – a very ‘mid-twenties in Montreal’ record full of disillusionment, sex, confusion, drugs, frustration, and apathy, peppered with pitch shifted vocals, keyboards, and drum machines characteristic to the city.

“I know you’ve got some fella from New York… it’s always some guy from New York” is how this Mixtape begins, lamenting someone’s ‘other man’ while a minimal electronic bass drum pounds through the walls of this otherwise guitar driven songwriter’s landscape. Within the first minutes of Mixtape it becomes apparent that this isn’t a case of a band’s front man ‘going solo’ and releasing a ‘back-to-basics’ record, Mixtape is an evolution of Koko, a ripening of Konnor.

Though the album touches on a familiar theme of big love gone sour on tracks like Waiting Rooms, an overtly jazzy tune, where Whitney K dejectedly asks, “is it just me? or is it two years too late to rekindle the connection”,  there are also strong themes of polygamy, excess, and hedonism threaded through out Mixtape, which is punctuated by tape squeals and reinforced with old movie dialogue.

The album is fractured and hops from genre to genre, like a mixtape that’s been dubbed by a friend. With songs like Kind Of Blue sounding like an old Beck song or Caught In The Headlights, complete with trumpet solo, reminiscent of the band Cake, Whitney K bops through dreams of “gay nights and whorish streets” and sex with “a 10-foot beast with fire breathing genitals and one hundred swollen teats”. The song When You’re Twenty clicking and whispering along like a new-wave band shows that the Whitney K will use whatever style that’s needed to best carry the song to the listener of Mixtape; it’s not imitation but exploration.

As Whitney K explores genres he also explores themes, like being a Part Time Lover. Picking up where Some Fella left off, he flatly states  “I’ll be your part time lover, I don’t mind if there is another part time lover” while the tape hisses and a wheezy organ drones. This idea of polyamorous love reemerges with the chugging reggae fuzz of Polly Ann Marie.

The gem of this album is Something; a song that gets past the emotional ambiguity so prevalent on Mixtape with heart wrenching moments of honesty like “why do you hate me? And why in the hell would I betray you?” followed by the wail of an artificially high pitched voice that sounds more like a wounded robot than a musical instrument.  As Whitney K croons “something will keep us together, something will tear us apart” the confusion returns and the mixtape whirls on.

As the fuzzy mist of Mixtape finally fades away, Whitney K’s acoustic guitar on Montréal is all that’s left, and a footnote sung for this artifact of his time “the salad days are gone, I lost them in Montreal”.