Freelance Whales | Diluvia
When Freelance Whales emerged in 2009, fresh from their subway and sidewalk guerrilla gigs with both guitar and glockenspiel tucked neatly under the arm, it was with their saccharine debut album Weathervanes. Stuffed to the brim with surefooted melodies and idiosyncratic indie-pop, it was an absolute delight and surely one of the most overlooked and underestimated albums of that year.
That it’s taken 3 years for the follow up not only highlights the relentless touring the group undertook to eventually turn Weathervanes into something of a sleeper success (we’re reluctant to overplay things and use the word ‘hit’) but is also the first hint that what lurks underneath Diluvia’s surface is a sea change surrounding a collection of songs that have been mulled over and deliberated on far more than their sugar-rush predecessors. Melodies aren’t so eager to please; arrangements are cleverer.
This general maturing (and we use that term carefully) is underlined by the fact that you have to wait to the record’s third track before you hear anything resembling a true chorus. That both songs manage to keep your attention – in the case of the opening ‘Aeolus’ it’s via a gorgeous verse melody sung by Judah Dadone and in the latter ‘Land Features’ some lush, swooning instrumentation filling in the gaps between the burst of vocals – to form a woozy, hypnotic opening is testament to the confidence this New York five-piece have not only in themselves but also their listener’s willingness to take this journey with them.
‘Locked Out’, the first snippet of the record released back in July, combines the acoustic guitar, synthesiser and glockenspiel of their debut but again lacks a chorus and builds instead to an extended outro in which the group chant “we have the rations to go anywhere” repeatedly. It’s not the only occasion that Diluvia favours the slow burn over the immediate pay off; it’s home to a fair few of these lengthy numbers. That it is a record that contains two fewer tracks than its predecessor yet manages to clock in nine minutes longer proves this, with the gorgeous, spacey ‘Red Star’ perhaps highlighting it best, taking 2 and a half minutes before breaking into its beautifully delicate chorus.
But let’s not overegg this – Diluvia isn’t impenetrable, far from it in fact, and glorious melodies are abundant. The born-for-radio whimsy-pop of ‘Spitting Image’ is the nearest they get to their debut album and lets the airy vocals of bassist Dorris Cellar take much deserved centre stage over an explosive four minutes. ‘Dig Into Waves’ is appropriately titled, with torrents of lush instrumentation crashing over and around another lighter-than-air Dadone vocal. Drums jitter. Synths stutter. Guitars chime. It’s another notable high point on an album that rarely comes down.
If Freelance Whales ever wanted to break through into the indie-rock mainstream it’s safe to say they would have had more chance producing another Weathervanes. It is an unquestionably more accessible record. If however, they are rightly more concerned with charting a path that shows all the hallmarks of the greats – growth, experimentation, assurance – then you have to say that they are very much on course. Diluvia emphatically proves that they have the rations. They really could go anywhere.