October 09, 2012 - Frenchkiss/Mom+Pop
Ambition’s a double-edged sword. It is typically a plus, but it can lead you to some outlying places steering you from a more direct, digestible track as it has Freelance Whales. They’ve turned from the twinkling twee of their 2010 debut to dreamy electro-tinged indie pop that retains some of their baroque instincts but submerges them in British darkwave echoes of the Cure and Echo & The Bunnymen. It sounds a lot like the Rosebuds’ third album Night Of The Furies but spacier where that album was dark. Simply put, it’s an overreach. The pursuit of drifting atmospheric arrangements diminishes their talent for melodic invention, weighing the proceedings down with heavily-layered songs lacking the propulsion to hold your interest. The introduction of so much electronic backing sucks some of the organic life so apparent on Weathervanes right out of the songs as majesty turns into pomp and charm takes a cab.
Part of this is intentional. They are telling a story of sorts, exploring the idea of a spacefaring race and what it would be like to become unmoored. (Presumably a cipher for their first couple years of touring.) The expansive songs, wave upon wave of keyboards and burbling drum beats are designed to evoke this environs, and not just the Pet Shop Boys (“Follow Through”). But those allergic to analog synths or '80s revivalism may find this an uncomfortable ride. What’s so disconcerting is that there’s a lot to like outside these polarizing stylistic tics. The intriguing use of a banjo on “Land Features” backed by a choir of voices and a sputtering beat begins like something David Longstreth of Dirty Projectors might conceive before it turns conventional with the arrival of keyboards 40 seconds in. By the time the horns come in you’re expecting the medal ceremony from Star Wars. Other complaints include the frequent long intros and the packing of too many instruments into the trebly upper registers.
There are a couple songs where it all comes together nicely. “Spitting Image” is one of the finest tracks they’ve done. A crisp sine curve guitar riff ricochets over a clever rhythm and the breathy cooing vocals of bassist Doris Cellar, with some bristling guitar post-punk guitar in the chorus. It sounds like futuristic lounge-pop, abetted by Cellar’s cool, strutting delivery, reminiscent of the Motels’ Martha Davis. The other notable track is “Winter Seeds” which is more understated than most of the rest, with a light snare, timpani and banjo and the echoing, heavily reverbed vocals suggesting a text message from the beginning of the last century. The break has a Japanese-flavored melody like staring in a Koi pond. It’s delightful, if (like everything else on this album) a bit overly long at five-plus minutes.
There’s a lot going on in Diluvia, and for that reason it can be something of a grower. Those with more patience and greater affection for watery keyboard fills may find this significantly more enjoyable. It’s just too much of everything and not enough focus and discernment to make these songs and this album hold together. There’s lots of talent in this New York sextet, but it gets lost in all the unbridled exploration and layers. You can go along, we’ll wait here and look for them to return a little closer to home next time.