Freelance Whales - Weathervanes, Album Review


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Freelance Whales
out August 23rd


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Falling in love with a young band is a lot like falling in love with a young woman – the same exhilaration, the same trepidation, the same split-second panics. Is this a fleeting fling or a lasting relationship? Will I look back a few years from now and regret this commitment? Is it too early to friend her on facebook? There’s an excitement unique to young bands, a promise and enthusiasm that’s difficult to capture.

Freelance Whales embody that promise, with a debut album that has garnered more praise and buzz in the last few weeks than it did during its first few months of existence. The hype train is pulling out of the station, whether you’re on it or not. Remember Passion Pit? Those smug little popsters who captured our hearts with synths and falsettos last year are passing the torch to folkier conductors.

And despite my hesitations and my fear of commitment, I’m on board.

Striking a balance between immediacy and permanency is one of the most difficult challenges a band – especially a band in its infancy – faces. Stray too far toward the first and you’re a bubblegum pop act with no depth. Aspire too strongly for the latter and your record sounds like every chump in a coffee shop trying to write the next Great American Novel, which is to say stilted, forced, pretentious.

Weathervanes, the debut from Freelance Whales, manages to find that mushy, ripe area right in between. The album is full of arrestingly simple melodies that have been fleshed out into sneakily complex songs. Tracks like “Generator^First Floor” and “Location” sound like recapitulations of familiar tunes that you just can’t quite put your finger on – couldn’t tell you the name, but I’m fairly certain I heard it sung around a campfire a few years back.

In spots, like on “Broken Horse,” you’d swear Sufjan Stevens was singing. Elsewhere, as on “Starring,” those Passion Pit boys are brought back to mind. Still elsewhere, you’d be tempted to compare this band to Menomena, or Illinois, or Arcade Fire even. But none of those descriptions really fit the bill. Perhaps Freelance Whales recall recapitulations because they are a clear byproduct of the music we’ve been listening to for the past five years. If that’s the case, they’ve managed to synthesize popular inflections better than my mind has ever done – a true example of creating a new whole out of familiar parts.

Freelance Whales have a quality rarely found on debut albums. I wish I could say that it is tough to identify - a musical je ne sais pas. But in reality, it’s easy to spot. It’s their patience that wins me over. There isn’t any urgency here, the album doesn’t sound in the least way desperate. Instead, they slowly build songs, layering banjos and synths and bells and vocals in a calm progression, letting the music itself dictate the pace, rather than strapping notes and rhythms to a predetermined bpm. Opening track, “Generator^First Floor,” takes a full minute and forty-five seconds before the first verse starts – and makes the wait worthwhile. If Where The Wild Things Are were re-released next year, this track would be in the trailer. That may be a weird way to sum up the easy power of this track, this band, this album, but it seems to me to be about the best way to put this type of music into words.

Are the Freelance Whales a legitimate band? That is a question I can’t answer, and probably won’t be able to answer for another couple of years. They’re young, un-tested, unsigned, and everything that comes along with those adjectives. In a few months or years we may all look back and say, brokenhearted and forlorn, “Damn, I really thought they were the one. I really thought it was going to work.” In the meantime, I’ll just enjoy falling goofy in love with this band.

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