(feat. track – “Always” [spotify])

When Rob Rowe of Cause & Effect launched his side-project Whitewaits, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Rowe has been the voice, primary songwriter and lone consistent member of C&E for almost 25 years, and while that band has produced a very distinctive brand of synthpop since day one, it was never an act that seemed limited in its scope.

And indeed, parts of the Whitewaits’ debut release, An Elegant Exit, seem indistinguishable from Cause & Effect’s work. Lead track “Inside,” with its circular synth lead and snapping 1-2 backbeat, could be a lost track from the sessions for Trip (which might just be my all-time favorite synthpop album, and is worthy of a post here all its own someday); “Blackbird Spies” puts a major-key twist on what is otherwise a familiar formula. But the pieces that break way from C&E’s core sound are the album’s strongest moments; the delicate acoustic ballads “Hope Is The Hardest,” and “Always;” the sweet, shimmery twinkles of  “Lost Boys;“ the racing kiss-off of “The Way Back,” the spacey haunt of “Ventolin” (pretty clearly an allusion to the asthma-related backstage death of bandmate Sean Rowley in 1992).

Despite such disparate sounds, An Elegant Exit works precisely because it feels like a compete piece, and that unifying factor that connects the constellation of dots is Rowe himself: between his smoothly sensitive croon, his mastery of lyrical tone – direct and piercing without ever revealing too many details, each disappointment leavened with empathy, joy always tempered with the dull sting of old loss – and his uniformly strong songwriting and composition, there’s not a dud among the album’s eight tracks.

Rob Rowe hasn’t released all that much music over the decades – 3 LPs, a handful of EPs, a few singles and remixes here and there – but it’s all been exemplary, and An Elegant Exit is no exception. If his past work is any guide, I’ll still be enjoying this one 20 years down the road too. If anything, I think it’ll only grow better with age.