Freelance Whales are the kind of band that set blogs and twitter on fire and the tongues of your friends furiously wagging. It’s taken them two years since getting together to unleash a debut LP and, if you dig their style in any way whatsoever, you’ll swiftly conclude that it was time well spent crafting a series of songs that mostly sound like old favourites, even on first listen.
To say nothing of the lush arrangements and beautifully worked textures thanks to an amalgam of glock, synths, harmonium, banjo (and less obviously cello and whatever a JP-8000 Waterphone is), Weathervanes just feels so familiar somehow; for better or for worse. Such instantly accessible, hook-laden pop will frustrate those hoping for a deep, slow-burning epic that rewards serious aural study, but such is the quality of the aforementioned instrumentation that Freelance Whales have come tantalizingly close to being both easy to learn and satisfyingly hard to master.
Indeed, second track ‘Hannah’ features such a doe-eyed, charming verse melody and a surging, warming chorus that is almost hard to imagine it bearing up to repeated listening for fear of sweetness overdose. The lyrics too, and vocal delivery are strictly low-profile, somewhat nonsensical twee (‘Every now and then she offers me a lemon now or later’ or ‘If I need to take a breath then you can take a trumpet solo’) but for the most part are evocative enough to avoid being throwaway.
Still, if you can stomach the saccharine content and the softly-softly approach to troubled slow songs there is a depth and an assuredness to their songwriting rarely found in similar genre contemporaries. Unfortunately it is in the slower, more contemplative songs (‘Broken Horse’, ‘Ghosting’, ‘We Could Be Friends’) that Freelance Whales can be accused of recycling a few tricks and a particular upwards inflection at the end of the vocal melody lines. It’s hardly a damning indictment but then it does rob a large swathe of the latter half of the album of the impact of the first.
Fortunately the final two tracks (‘Generator ^ Second Floor’ and ‘The Great Estates’) round off this debut on a more positive note; the former track increasingly layered and mesmeric, the closing song subtle and possessed of some truly gorgeous harmonies. More than anything it’s a poor choice of song-sequence, and essentially leaves the album dangerously close to feeling top loaded.
It is unclear then whether it is to Freelance Whales’ credit that they can fairly accurately summed up as a fusion of The Postal Service, Hellogoodbye and Sufjan Steven’s banjo. Theirs isn’t a particularly progressive sound but this means close to nothing in the face of such an impressive drawing together of their influences. Weathervanes contains some seriously memorable and intelligent pop gems, some that are merely adequate and some a little sub-par; despite having such an awful name, the forecast for Freelance Whales‘ debut and most certainly their future efforts is a very sunny one indeed.