The couple that make up Whitehorse – Melissa McClelland and Luke Doucet – happen to be Canadian singer-songwriter mainstays in their own right: both launched solo debuts in 2001, while the latter can trace his charts roots back to 1996 as one-third of Vancouver surf rockers Veal. They also happen to be married. To each other.
But it is not simply to marital bliss and respective discographies that this, the first Whitehorse LP, owes its effortless cohesion. McClelland and Doucet are long-time collaborators, and not simply in the help-me-assemble-this-IKEA-coffee-table sense: they’ve regularly appeared on one another’s albums over the years, and Doucet, in fact, has produced three of McClelland’s four albums to date.
As such, Whitehorse is on the front foot from the off with intimate duets and harmonies set with conjugal precision. Its eight-song tracklisting also includes reworkings of a pair of old singles in the form of McClelland’s Passenger 24 and Doucet’s Broken – in addition to a folky cover of Bruce Springsteen‘s I’m On Fire – so the impression is that there’s little scope to go wrong.
That said, this is not an LP to stand alongside the more avant-garde boy-girl productions of the 2010s: Whitehorse are an act laden with talent but burdened too, perhaps, with a superseding sense of the conventional that manifests as a tendency to drift towards MOR territory.
But events commence promisingly enough as Eulogy For Whiskers juxtaposes poetic, spoken word wanderlust against sparse alt-country runs. It’s as if the pair have crossbred the Kerouac: Joy Kicks Darkness tribute with a scene from Red Dead Redemption. It is, sufficed to say, an opening statement that demands attention.
Other efforts do too: Killing Time Is Murder boasts a patient Americana stomp as gritty as it is authentic – the duo’s personal synergy coming across in buckets – while Emerald Isle’s longing soars on similar terms: “Did you fly a million miles / for every single one that I ran? / I don’t know which of us is crazier,” they belt out like a slightly more sanitised Sparrow & The Workshop.
Oddly enough, it is during the trio of aforementioned covers – their own and Springsteen’s – that Whitehorse lose their grasp somewhat. Passenger 24, a McClellend staple, proffers a brand of hick-rock just a touch too conceited, a touch too TV movie, to maintain the standard established; Doucet’s Broken coasts to similarly dangerous Shania Twain territory; I’m On Fire is simplified for the folk layman at the expense of the original’s subtleties.
All of which is pleasant enough, but a cop-out too: one is left suspecting that three rehashes out of a mere eight tracks in total (including a 50-second outro) represents a poor return for a pairing full of promise, and an opportunity well and truly missed. Still, the opening eight minutes are almost worth the price of admission alone, such are their vibrant constitutions and zesty executions. Treat this as an EP.