CD review of the ‘weathervanes' by the Freelance Whales

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Freelance Whales


To the extent that the blogosphere even noticed Freelance Whales in 2009, its opinion seemed divided: Was the band the second coming of Arcade Fire? Or an unsophisticated arriviste from Queens?

As it turned out, a little of both: Freelance Whales had only been together a short time when they recorded "weathervanes," one of the year's sweetest, wonkiest debuts. The group spent months busking in subways and playing house parties for well-connected hipsters before releasing the disc in late summer.

The band's rise from absolute obscurity to slightly-less-absolute obscurity felt natural, the thing to do in a year when no one was sure how to do anything anymore. Its diffidence is echoed in "weathervanes," a leisurely, layered and lovely collection of gentle folk-pop songs with stacked, almost choral harmonies and an intemperate love of banjos and synthesizers. It incorporates pretty much every old-timey acoustic instrument you can think of (glockenspiels, harmoniums) and some you probably couldn't (like the waterphone, a bronze and stainless-steel contraption that emits whalelike noises).

"Weathervanes" feels like a calling card; it's the sound of a band figuring out what kind of noise it wants to make. In the meantime, the band's resemblance to Arcade Fire, which is as formalist as Freelance Whales are slack, can't be understated: If the Arcade Fire's members had been weaned on Sufjan Stevens instead of the Talking Heads, they might have made "weathervanes" themselves.

Freelance Whales play at the Black Cat Jan. 21.

-- Allison Stewart

Recommended tracks "Generator 1st Floor," "Generator 2nd Floor," "The Great Estates"

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