Freelance Whales, Weathervanes

Freelance Whales, Weathervanes

It’s funny, but until I heard Freelance Whales’ Weathervanes, it’d never really occurred to me how much influence Ben Gibbard’s had on music; I mean, the guy’s an icon, these days, both for Death Cab and The Postal Service, but all of a sudden I’m seeing threads connecting folks like Freelance Whales backwards to Gibbard’s melancholy, melodic soft-rock. There’re huge chunks of Weathervanes, in this case, that I’m guessing wouldn’t exist were it not for Gibbard and cohort Jimmy Tamborello melding indie-pop and electronics back in 2003.

I don’t mean to disparage Freelance Whales, mind you — they’ve taken what they love, which is early-’00s, sweetly-melodic indie-pop, and built on it in admirable fashion. There’s an undeniable, wildly joyous feel to a lot of Weathervanes, especially on tracks like “Starring” and “Stairs,” and the baroque, clever arrangements call to mind bands like The Decemberists (were they to drop the drama-school stuff somewhat, that is) and a less-frantic You Me & Iowa. I let the album spin, and after a while, even if I’m not fully paying attention, I feel like I need to skip back and rehear bits and pieces here and there.

“Stairs,” in particular, is hooky to the point of marvelousness, making me smile like an idiot while the lyrics unfurl like a bespectacled poet hurriedly trying to woo the girl of his dreams but tripping over his own intelligence. There’s also the thumping, heartbeat-like rhythm of “Location,” a track that layers sheets of spacey guitars over vocals and that insistent beat. Further on, “Starring” employs skittering, stuttering drums beneath lush beds of sunshiny synths, and the whole thing makes me long for sunny, warm days when the sound can just explode out of the car’s windows. “Kilojoules” is more laidback but still smiling and subversively sweet, like a friendly ghost singing from his home inside the house’s walls before dissolving into nothing but a fading shimmer.

Then, at the halfway mark of the album, “Broken Horse,” things shift gears pretty dramatically. All the electronicism moves to the rear, and the more delicately folky stuff gets dragged protesting up to the front of the stage. “Broken Horse” itself sounds less like any of the preceding indie-pop songs and more like stark, bitter-yet-calm indie-folksters Winterpills, and it’s pretty great for that, channeling a fair amount of melancholy through choral vocals, subtle bells, and jangly, strummy guitar.

After that, it’s like Weathervanes becomes a totally different album. “Ghosting” is appropriately drifting and gorgeous, a far cry from the full-tilt speed of some of the previous tracks, while “We Could Be Friends” sways and meanders along in a dreampop-y haze. Banjos (at least, that’s what I think they are) figure prominently into “Generator ^ Second Floor,” turning it into a warm, thoughtful hoedown/elegy, even though it veers somewhat back into Death Cab-ish territory. Then there’s closer “The Great Estates,” which is pastoral and fuzzed-out at once, plinking along gently ’til it becomes a river of sound that drags you along with it. And by then, trust me, you don’t mind.

[Freelance Whales is playing 3/16/10 at Mango's, along with Cymbals Eat Guitars & Bear In Heaven.]
(Frenchkiss Records -- c/o Syd Butler, 111 East 14th St. Suite 229, New York, NY. 10003; http://frenchkissrecords.com/; Freelance Whales -- http://www.freelancewhales.com/)
BUY ME: Amazon

Review by . Review posted Tuesday, March 16th, 2010. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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