Freelance Whales, ‘Diluvia’ – Album Review
The word, concept and phase of life that saturates Freelance Whales is youth. Not in an M83, babies-of-the-’80s nostalgic way, but rather in real-time, doe-eyed expressions of their still-going salad days. The Whales are a quintet from Queens — which counts as contrarian, given all the Brooklyn bands — and on ‘Diluvia,’ they have a yearning, reaching, inchoate style that’s as crisp as a freshly plucked apple.
With its strange name (Latin for flood — look at the album art!) and long songs, the group’s sophomore record is the product of musicians raised on Death Cab, Postal Service, the Decemberists and Seth Cohen. Despite that hodgepodge of influences, there is individuality here. It’s mostly courtesy of Judah Dadone’s circumlocutory circumspection, as the singer sketches out scenes of bridges and egrets and shards of diamonds, and that’s just the first song, the winsome, cirrus-speckled ‘Aelous.’ (Which might be a Magic card, but anyway…) He’s clearly studied Colin Meloy and Conor Oberst, and as such, he reaches — and sometimes overreaches — for literary flourish, dropping lines like, “Throw me in the top it’s all the same, in a cold black frame, with a pterodactyl gho-o-o-o-st.” (That’s on the banjo-picked ‘Winter Seeds,’ by the way.)
The band has a radically different feel when Doris Cellar takes over on vocals, as on ‘Spitting Image.’ There, as she floats her lollipop voice over synths, singing about hiding and love and whatever else, she doesn’t exhibit the same gift of gab. The twee takes hold in ‘Locked Out,’ where Dadone muses about emptiness and meaning among bubble-wrap xylophones and Sega Genesis synths. Headiness meets helium as the band pulls the track tight on its outro, repeating “we have the rations to go anywhere” and “the noble pulsar” — definite signs Dadone has read his Dune.
Let’s be clear: Well-executed nerdery of this level commands respect. ‘Red Star’ is one of the finest cosmic ballads since Bowie, though the space operatics need to be reined in on the unforgivably long ‘DNA Bank’ — seven-plus minutes of wind chimes and introspection that slides into closer ‘Emergence Exit,’ wherein, after a line about soil and nutrients, Dadone and the gang repeat, “You would have been better alone / without my love,” until the record ends. To say that the ending is welcome might be too strong — the album certainly has its highlights — but most of ‘Diluvia’ is simply too much.