New York twee-poppers Freelance Whales took many by surprise with their debut album Weathervanes. Its sound popped, the tight arrangements and crisp banjo propelling the listener through an old house where stories lurked behind every door. Over it all, Judah Dadone’s spirited voice told of ghosts and haunted staircases like Ben Gibbard’s energetic understudy. Weathervanes explored the fragility and beauty found in the dynamics of human relationships via indie-radio ready hooks. It was a record that you didn’t have to think about to love.
Diluvia, the band’s sophomore effort, explores the same territory with a very different approach. Whereas Weathervanes put the emphasis on tempo and exposition, Diluvia explores the atmosphere of a song. It applies the ghost stories of Weathervanes to the entire universe, hovering over the roof of the house to stare off into the horizon and note the shadows gathering in the garden. The result is a slower, more spacey album full of harmonies that float and hang in the ether. Opener “Aeolus” is beautiful, a song that demands to be listened to through headphones, while the narrator of “Land Features” literally floats over the scenery, describing the landscape and its inhabitants with disarmingly simple observations, “Look at us / We’re a bloody mess / And loving it.”
Every song feels dewy and fresh, especially those where Doris Cellar get time on lead vocals, most notably the gorgeous “Winter Seeds”. Diluvia is a morning album, if that makes sense, about “circuit boards and spaceships,” an album best appreciated with a cup of coffee and a cat curled up on your lap. In other words, it’s a major break from the Postal Service-compared Weathervanes, diving into the swirling waters of ethereal arrangements and full choirs, basking in the twee-symphony waves where texture matters more individual components. To use a hip-hop metaphor, Diluvia is to Weathervanes what Lil Wayne’s “I Feel Like Dying” is to “Fireman”.
It will be interesting to see how the Freelance Whales live experience changes given the disparity in sound between the two albums. When the band breaks into crowd pleasers like “Hannah” or “Kilojoules”, the audience leaps with joy, tweed jackets and mops of carefully unkempt hair bobbing up and down like a hipster bouncy castle. I doubt there’s going to be the same enthusiastic response for the vaguely New Age synthesizer of “Red Star”.
A lot of passion and careful production went into Diluvia, but more isn’t always, well, more. The album that comes to mind is Cloud Cult’s Light Chasers, a record about subjects not dissimilar to Diluvia’s “space-faring humans and other arguably fantastical scenarios.” Cloud Cult used swimming horns, airy guitars, and a high level of orchestral intuition on that album, but they mixed it up with some raucous bangers like “The Battles - Room Full of People in Your Head”. The result was an album that ebbed and flowed as naturally as air through lungs. Diluvia is more like a constant exhalation which, while cathartic to release, gets a bit samey toward the end.
Like Light Chasers, Diluvia is an album that requires time and attention, but is ultimately worth every listen. More importantly, Diluvia cements Freelance Whales’ place in the pantheon of up-and-coming bands, and expands their horizons beyond what anyone would have imaged based on a cursory listen of “Hannah”. Dadone sums up their bright creative outlook perfectly on the chorus of “Locked Out”, in a voice that sounds exactly like his own: “We have the rations to go anywhere.”
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