Former members of influential bands wind up in difficult positions later in life. Their pasts can create opportunities that other new bands wouldn't, or become stylistic millstones around their necks. No matter what such performers do next, they'll always be associated with something else. If Whysall Lane's debut is any indication, the band is at peace with that.
The San Francisco-based trio features two heavy hitters, drummer Adam Pfahler (formerly of the popular punk band Jawbreaker) and guitarist-vocalist Richard Baluyut (formerly of indie-rock group Versus), but Baluyut is the one whose past haunts his present. Of the 10 songs on the album, nearly half sound exactly like Versus, particularly "Half Life," "Time Machine," and "The Way Back." It goes beyond Baluyut's guitar-playing and voice; bassist Mikel Delgado sings like a dead ringer for Versus' Fontaine Toups. Even the songs that don't sound like the old band outright could still pass for Hurrah-era Versus.
That's not surprising, considering Whysall Lane began as a solo project for Baluyut during Versus' downtime. And sounding like one of the best indie-rock bands of the '90s is hardly a crime. But Whysall Lane spent three years writing its debut; the album could have been so much more. The band doesn't really assert itself until the final two songs, "Watts" and "High Heels." Both epic tracks move at a slow pace, with a palpable unease simmering just below their quiet surface. The songs hint at a better future for Whysall Lane, but considering how long it took to release a debut, years may pass before that vision is realized.