Freelance Whales, 'Diluvia'
After receiving mixed reviews of their debut album, New York’s Freelance Whales are back with an album of imagination and structured whimsy. Diluvia, the band’s second album, is full of sonorous activity and uncommon instruments. With softer colors and deeper tones, the quintet from Queens demonstrates less of the naïve optimism for which their first release was chided. They spent two months working with producer Shane Stoneback (Vampire Weekend, Sleigh Bells, Cults) in several spaces in and around New York. However, in an effort to cast off that youthful label, they sacrificed a bit of the originality that drew listeners to their debut in the first place. For a band that has done things their own way, several of the tracks sound like imitations or remixes from other bands.
The second track on the album, “Land Features” opens with a picked banjo line joined by guitar later reminiscent of Dave Matthews Band’s “Satellite” and morphs into something from Disney’s electric light parade. The very next track, “Follow Through” opens with a descending piano line uncannily similar to Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C#-minor while simultaneously sounding like it could be on the next Death Cab record. “Spitting Image,” one of the preview tracks for the album could be a Best Coast B-side track.
All this to say, there are still sounds you will hear on this album that you won’t hear anywhere else—glockenspiel, featured prominently on their debut Weathervanes, makes a return and a bass clarinet seems to show up, too. There are synth effects, bells, vocal effects and whistles galore that make for a fun trip through sonorous space. Which is exactly what the band is looking for. Along with some of the instrumentation, Freelance has also kept with their now tradition of an extramusical (and extraterrestrial) element to their albums in the form of an accompanying program/storyline. Diluvia is described by the band as “a record about the possible survival—or peril—of space- faring humans and other arguably fantastical scenarios.” The question of survival, the darkness, coldness and distance of space, and the ways the band illustrates these serve to make this album an appropriate fall release—as the world grows literally darker and colder and we put more space between ourselves, holing up in our homes, huddled under blankets and sweaters.
“Aeolus,” the album’s opener, is also the name of the ruler of the winds from Greek mythology, and sets the dreamy tone for the rest of the album. The initial sounds resemble what you would expect to hear from satellites, spaceships and space matter floating around in space, establishing a sense of place. This affected sense of environment is the dominating element through all of Diluvia as the lyrics are often indecipherable or incoherent. It makes sense when you learn that much of the lyrical content of the band has come from dream logging—a rather unusual approach to the process.
Then again, the group also isn’t one for traditionalist approaches. They formed in 2008 through Craigslist and managed a great deal of their promotion themselves, busking in the streets and subways of New York and playing house parties, including a literary fraternity. Their first “performance” was to a “spirited” audience at an abandoned, and apparently haunted, farm colony on Staten Island. They certainly do things their own way, which is the trick to a successful second album. If you make an album too similar to your first, people are disappointed in the lack of creativity; if you make an album too different from the first, people are disappointed in the lack of consistency. You’re left with the choice to make an album you’re proud of and leave it at that. Let’s hope Freelance Whales have done that much at least.
Diluvia has some really great tunes and grooves to it. “Locked Out” has a tag that’s gotten looped in my head more than once. I love the overall feel of “Aeolus” more and more as I listen to it. There’s a certain sweetness to “Red Star” and I do admire the Rachmaninoff reference in the aforementioned “Follow Through” and the weight of the few words I do understand in the chorus. “The Nothing” has a nice beat to it and a grooving bass line. As an album Diluvia is well built with the tracks feeding one into the other at a good pace and with good connection, but I could do without one or two of the later tracks for the sake of my musical attention span. I really do like this band in general and I am excited to see what they continue to produce and do, hoping they continue to grow and find their own voice, which is missing a little from this album.