Freelance Whales: Diluvia


Freelance Whale’s debut LP, 2009’s Weathervanes, was a largely love-it-or-hate-it affair. The word "cutesy" has been thrown around to describe the album’s sound, and you could either dig the Queens-based quintet’s occasionally saccharine lyrics ("Hannah takes the stairs and I usually take the elevator/Every now and then she offers me a lemon Now and Later"), liberal use of glockenspiel, and mercilessly catchy melodies, or find it all a bit much.

Diluvia, the group’s sophomore release, is at least a few shades darker than Weathervanes, but preserves the oddball pop instrumentation that helped Freelance Whales stand out in a crowded New York indie scene. There’s nothing on Diluvia as instantly satisfying as Weathervanes’ electro-pop standout "Starring" or the banjo-fueled "Generator First Floor" (the latter of which was used to hock Starbucks and the Chevy Volt). Instead, the focus here is on constructing an ethereal soundscape driven by dreamy synths and sprawling arrangements — a whopping five songs land over the five-minute mark — and the result is a more cohesive effort that tones down the cutesy without sacrificing the spirit.

While Weathervanes‘ delicate banjo plucks and effortlessly pretty male/female vocals gained the Whales comparisons to Sufjan Stevens and The Postal Service, pre-Suburbs Arcade Fire is a better point of reference for Diluvia (trade the volatile strings for synths), as nearly every song strives for anthemic heights. The opening tracks, "Aeolus" and "Land Features," set the tone, launching from looping opening riffs into soaring climaxes. The frantic "Spitting Image" pulses with "oohs" and "ahs" before building up and exploding. "Winter Seeds," perhaps the album’s best, plods along peacefully before unleashing a dizzying, beautiful chorus, as lead vocalists Judah Dadone and Doris Cellar sing evocatively of being thrown into tar pits alongside pterodactyl bones.

Lyrically, however, there are still a few nails-on-a-chalkboard passages. "Locked Out" repeats the vapid clunker "We have the rations to go anywhere/The striding light beam fades" and "DNA Bank," a near eight-minute slow-builder, breaches the line between quirky and cloying with the refrain "Where have our father’s hopes and feathers gone?" But overall, Diluvia is a cohesive and consistent sophomore album that demonstrates Freelance Whales’ willingness to evolve — a crucial quality for any young band.

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