The 10 Best Bay Area Albums of 2017: Trebuchet, ‘Volte-Face’

'Volte-Face' is about the ultimate about-face — at the last possible hour.

'Volte-Face' is about the ultimate about-face — at the last possible hour. (Courtesy Trebuchet)

It was 2am, the night before his wedding, when Elliott Whitehurst woke up his dad.

The ceremony was already set, friends and family in town. But suddenly, Whitehurst realized he was making a mistake. His dad heard him out, about how he’d wanted to make his fiancée happy but lost himself in the process. He knew it. His friends knew it. His bandmates definitely knew it.

Whitehurst’s dad said he understood. Hours before the ceremony, the wedding was called off.

That night and the events surrounding it form the core of Trebuchet’s Volte-Face, a gorgeous, indie-folk song cycle about growing older, trying manhood on for size, aiming to please, failing oneself, watching a love turn sour and corrosive, and ultimately choosing self-preservation. It’s not bitter, or angry, or pessimistic. It contains piano, ukeleles, shimmering guitars, and four-part harmonies galore. I surprised myself by listening to it more than any other album in 2017, each time finding new moments of beauty and calm during this year of constant terror.

Hailing from Petaluma, Trebuchet put out two previous records that were pleasant enough, but felt too by-the-numbers. Whitehurst, generally a quiet person, comes from a family of bold musical personalities. His sister Emily Whitehurst is best known as the distinctive singer of the pop-punk band Tsunami Bomb, and his older brother Logan Whitehurst, who died of cancer in 2006, was a madcap genius whose clever songs captivated Dr. Demento and the nerdier corners of the early internet. But I often wondered while listening to Trebuchet’s early recordings, “When is Elliott going to find his voice?”

Volte-Face is the answer, writ large. With the expert backing of Navid Manoochehri, Lauren Haile, and Paul Haile — whose background with both Fleet Foxes-esque folk forms and majestic, sweeping Explosions In The Sky-type instrumentals is evident here — the songs breathe and pulse dramatically while traversing a relationship that over-ripens and turns into something rotten. By the end, as Whitehurst lets go of all lingering guilt, a giant choir repeats the refrain “She’ll be fine,” as a mantra to washing one’s hands of another’s needs. It’s a perfect ending to the album — a huge release of liberation.

Elliott Whitehurst should not get married more often. Volte-Face is a gift.

We’ll be posting our top 10 local albums of 2017 every day through Dec. 22. Check back here to see which other albums made our list.

The 10 Best Bay Area Albums of 2017: Trebuchet, ‘Volte-Face’ 18 December,2017Gabe Meline

Author

Gabe Meline

Gabe Meline is KQED Arts’ Senior Editor. He lives with his wife, his daughter, a 1964 Volvo and too many records in his hometown of Santa Rosa, CA. Find him on Twitter at @gmeline.

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