Still holding your breath for the next Postal Service album? Listen to Weathervanes instead: It’s the best electronic indie-pop debut since Ben Gibbard last tuned his laptop. Armed with dreamy melodies, charmingly terrible pickup lines, and a vibrant band-geek orchestra carting harmoniums and glockenspiels, this New York quintet makes tenderhearted nerdiness sound like a powerful strength. A? Download These:Pretty banjo hymn Generator First Floor at myspace.comSufjan Stevens-style ballad Broken Horse at last.fm See all of this week’s reviews .
First, let’s get the obvious out of the way: Yes, Freelance Whales is strikingly derivative. They sound like some bizarre amalgamation of Wilco’s mustiness, Sufjan’s orchestral swagger, and that Owl City kid’s cutesy electro; in fact, the band’s debut album, Weathervanes, is thoroughly unoriginal in every way possible, even down to the Gibbard-esque vocals. Now, that sounds pretty damning, but fortunately their failures in ingenuity are easily made up in spectacle.
It’s fair to say that Freelance Whales fall under the category of “buzz band,” simply due to their sheer determination to perform in as many New York City venues and street corners as possible, all the while amassing a decent collection of atypical instruments to play with. After gaining a following in New York City (which in retrospect doesn’t seem impossible if you play at all of the right blogger-based watering holes), Freelance Whales assembled a collection of their best indie-pop tunes, hopped on FrenchKiss Records, and prepared to release Weathervanes. But there are plenty of things comparable to being a buzz band -- like, say, being embroiled in a tabloid scandal, or popping out eight kids then getting your face bloated with collagen.
At 35,000 feet, a first real listen of Freelance Whales’ debut LP seems scarily appropriate. The tops of clouds and glimpses of the coastline below act as visual echoes of Judah Dadone’s gentle vocal style, of the intricate orchestration and laptop rhythms the multi-instrumental quintet has to offer throughout Weathervanes. Prevailing winds even affect an airplane as much as they power the device after which Freelance Whales named the album.
Freelance Whales are soooo noughties. When I listen to Weathervanes I can’t help but envisage some thick-rimmed glasses, sweater-vest and Converse wearing teen digging the latest Death Cab For Cutie or Hawthorne Heights tracks on MySpace (I hasten to add I am not envisaging my younger self). Freelance Whales could have been pretty popular in 2003 or 2004, but in 2010 there seems much less of a market for this breed of earnest, lightweight indie-pop.
Even in the fantasy world of Twee (a musical realm where unicorns play hopscotch with tree nymphs and everyone hugs all the time), there is a threshold where things become too quirky, too cute. Weathervanes, the debut album from NYC upstarts Freelance Whales, spends some of its time sitting on that line and the rest of it taking huge cotton candy shits on the wrong side of it.The back story on this band is a cheerful one: five folks from Hipstertown Brooklyn make easy, fragile pop music out of gang vocals, boy/girl exchanges, banjos and a can-do attitude. After a few loft shows and street corner performances, their warm, inviting debut album drops in the midst of the Chillwave freeze out of 09-10 to remind us how to love.
Weathervanes, the debut album from New York City's (Queens, to be exact) Freelance Whales is built upon the tried and true, 21st century indie pop foundation of quirky loops, banjos, glockenspiels, and clever lyrics. Like their contemporaries (Morning Benders, Fun. , Le Loup) and obvious influences (Belle and Sebastian, Sufjan Stevens), the Whales use twee pop as a springboard for a more heavily orchestrated brand of earnest, quirky, city pop that seems destined for placement in a European car or fruit-adorned MP3 player commercial.
From Tommy Lee's rotating, airborne cage to John Bonham's gong, rock drummers have made crowd-pleasing gimmicks a time-honored tradition. Freelance Whales' Jacob Hyman' addition to this legacy is... incorporating a watering can into his kit. I wouldn't bring this up if everyone else didn't-- it's the most oft-repeated factoid regarding Freelance Whales in all of their pre-release hype.
An unremarkable debut that simply imitates the innovators. Chris Lo 2010 The latest in the crop of electro-tinged indie pop groups that New York seems to pump out with an industrial intensity, Queens-based five-piece Freelance Whales have enjoyed a smooth ride into the mainstream. Having formed in late 2008, the band spent the next year or so turning heads at the South by Southwest festival, signing to indie super-label Frenchkiss and touring with the likes of Cymbals Eat Guitars, Shout Out Louds and Mumford & Sons.