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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.
The band’s debut, Weathervanes, is an unmitigated disappointment after the appreciative murmurings from press and the buzz from fans and festival-goers. A serviceable but utterly derivative slice of twee electro-pop, the album quietly retreads the ground covered by Sufjan Stevens, The Postal Service and Frenchkiss labelmates Passion Pit, failing to form any identifiable shape of its own. Frontman Judah Dadone’s studied vocals are even a perfect doppelganger of Death Cab for Cutie/Postal Service vocalist and king of twee Ben Gibbard.
Freelance Whales make a perfectly pleasant noise; soft synths and toy box electronica mix with plucked guitar and banjo to keep the songs ticking over with nary a misplaced note. But Weathervanes’ complete lack of lyrical substance or sonic experimentation leaves the album with only the most irritating affectations of modern American indie. The almost parody-level lyrics on Hannah (“And if you’re partial to the night sky / If you’re vaguely attracted to rooftops”) could have been cranked out on an emo production line. The tracklist quickly degenerates into a repetitive crawl of mid-paced cutesy pop (Starring, Kilojoules), obligatory acoustic ballads (Broken Horse) and tiresome, meaningless ambient interludes. Even the album’s home-spun aesthetic is undermined by its slick, flavourless production.
Freelance Whales haven’t produced a terrible album by any means, but even a terrible album might be preferable to this non-entity. Although Weathervanes is an album impossible to despise, it’s distressingly easy to ignore.
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