Freelance Whales – Weathervanes
Maybe it’s the name (‘Freelance Whales’ puts you in mind of some bizarre prog-psych project). Maybe it’s the fact that the lyrics on their debut album are inspired by dream journaling and childhood memories, or maybe it’s the fact that they honed their craft playing subway stations around New York (!), but Freelance Whales are one of those bands who initially sound a lot more interesting than they actually are when you get as far as listening to them.
Debut album Weathervanes was actually self-released late last year, but the steady buzz building around the Queens, NYC band has led to a re-release on Frenchkiss Records, home of Passion Pit and The Antlers. The dominant musical palette here is intricate folk-influenced arrangements with electronic touches and meek, mannered vocals. Reviewers have inevitably and appropriately used Ben Gibbard (Death Cab For Cutie/The Postal Service) as a point of reference, although more worryingly Sufjan Stevens has been mentioned in dispatches – there are sonic similarities (in particular the omnipresent banjo), but nowhere near the level of ambition or originality of Sufjan’s records.
Listening to Weathervanes is a pleasant enough experience up to a point. Opening track ‘Generator ^ First Floor’ breezes by with lilting vocals and dreamy harmonies, ‘Starring’ is underpinned by a bouncy electronic hook, while ‘Broken Horse’ benefits from a melancholic, gritty quality that is badly needed elsewhere. The best track is arguably the final one -‘The Great Estates’, a graceful banjo-led number with soothing, hypnotic harmonies.
Unfortunately, many people mightn’t make it as far as the closing track. As a whole, Weathervanes is just far too mawkish and cloying to deal with in anything but the smallest doses. Even the standout tracks mentioned above tend to suffer in the context of the album, dominated as it is by overly polite, timid compositions and awkward, ham-fisted lyrics. The likes of ‘Hannah’ and ‘Location’ are about a rung or two above the maudlin, bathetic likes of Snow Patrol, and as such any references to Sufjan need to be taken with a serious pinch of salt. Approach with caution.