By PATRICK O’HEFFERNAN
When an advance copy Whitney Tai’s newest single, “Surrender” appeared in my mailbox, I dropped what I was doing to put on my earphones and listened deeply, as you must to a Whitney Tai song. Her last release, “The Cure”, is a wrenching, inspiring, emotional journey that turns hurt into strength with her fragile-sharp lyrics and ageless childlike voice. “Surrender” continues the climb from her heart to the stars she launched in “Sleeping Walking to the Moon” and accelerated with “The Cure.”
Sailing, soaring, piercing, demanding – “Surrender” is no musical surrender, it is a triumph of power over pain. Tai introduces “Surrender” as she seemingly floats in a luminescent surf, beckoning you to join her as one of the “burning particles over the sea”, to leave your cares behind on the shore. But when you approach, her voice explodes like a solar flare with the truth of her surrender: This is my surrender/To the powers that be always talkin to me, she pours into your ears, lines drawn from the pain of terrible loss in her life and the assault it mounted on her sanity.
But the assault failed and she came back to produce an avalanche of poetry and music that she has contained and funneled into an upcoming album, Apogee. The pre-master copy I listened to is the apogee, the pinnacle, of her career. Ten songs that range from dream pop to power ballads, all delivered with Tai’s trademark seamless blend of scalpel-sharp lyrics, subtle production details and powerhouse voice that contains both the child and the Valkyrie.
A designer and architect by training, Tai has sculpted, detailed and presented each song as a stand-alone jewel in a luminescent musical tapestry – cohesive and yet as different as the planets. The album opens with “Starfish”, an addictive ear-worm of multi-vocal harmony and stunning production that flows like a personal conversation. The mood shifts with “Not Have Each Other”, a dream pop landscape of synth drums, strings and horns and Vocoder inserts you could listen to all night. But you can’t, because the next song is “The Cure”, her stunning work of poetic and musical art that walks the cutting edge of pop and indie without sacrificing emotional honesty, Tai’s unique gift to music.
As you recover from “The Cure”, “Surrender” begins, strong piano notes beneath soaring synth and vocal effects that frame Tai’s child voice that quickly ascends into operatic power as the beat comes down hard and the vocals wail for an apogee of music and emotion. She gives you a break with “Righteous” – until the lighthearted beat makes way for soaring vocals. Another break comes with “Scolded”, a soft beginning and then a head-bobbing time signature within a mysterious synth architecture. But even here, Tai cannot hold back; her voice climbs and wheels like an eagle and then floats down, picking up the beat again.
“Meet Me on Melrose” is a light-footed trip that sparkles with a Spanish guitar and rhythms, fun and addictive, especially if you know Melrose Ave. “Not Without Love” and “Electrified” are both rich with Janssen’s masterful production skills and attention to the detail that makes the duo so good at creating sophisticated earworm songs. “You will be humming “I am electrified” for hours after you listen to it.
The album ends with what I think is the most profound and personal song on Apogee, “Incantation”. Structured with a simple but urgent piano riff, Janssen’s production brings moonlight and stars to Tai’s vocals and then flares, taking you back to the volcanos in “Surrender”. Emotionally draining but mixed with an injection of adrenalin.
Apogee is the pinnacle of Whitney Tai’s career to date, but it is also a launching pad orbiting in the stratosphere from where she will reach even more apogees.
Tai will be premiering “Surrender” live on April 10th for their release party at The Moroccan Lounge in downtown Los Angeles. “Surrender” will be released and available worldwide on all digital platforms on April 10th, 2020. Follow her socials for the release date of Apogee.