Freelance Whales Evolve on 'Diluvia'

By Brandon Hook 10-09-2012
Charlie Gross /
Freelance Whales' sophomore album, Diluvia, hits shelves today. Charlie Gross /

Battlestar Galactica—not the first thing you think of while mining the vast array of influences on an indie rock record. Even more surprising might be Carl Sagan’s The Cosmos or the History Channel’s Ancient Alien Theory. But all three shows played vital parts in inspiring Freelance Whales’ newest record Diluvia.

“All three of those shows have an abundance of emotional storytelling that we just found really inspiring,” said Chuck Criss, who plays banjo, bass, synthesizer, glockenspiel, harmonium, acoustic and electric guitar, and provides vocals for the band. “[But] I don't want to give the impression that we made a Bowie sci-fi record.”

While they may not have set out to make another soundtrack to 2001: A Space Odyssey, the sci-fi influences are definitely apparent on Diluvia, particularly in the twitchy electronic sounds that open and close most of the album’s songs as well as the ambient, spacey atmosphere permeating Diluvia. Both are a far cry from the quintet from the Queens’ opening album, Weathervanes (2009), which they described as “layered, textured pop music.

“Our first album was made to feel like you were inside a small house, maybe in a dream,” Criss said. “So musically it was very enclosed.  Our new record deals with a much bigger universe, and we wanted to make it feel like outer space.  We used a lot of bigger ambient sounds to get that effect.”

Thus, it comes as no surprise nearly halfway through the album on “Locked Out” when frontman Judah Dadone chants what seems to have fueled Diluvia: “We have the rations to go anywhere.”

Freelance Whales didn’t just go to a new frontier — they went for the final frontier.

The album’s title, not coincidentally, echoes a similar sentiment and may even be a metaphor for the band itself. “Diluvia” happens when a glacier shifts or moves as a result of a great flood. The floodgates of possibility opened up after Weathervanes, and Freelance Whales felt free to explore. Such exploration is inherently risky.

“The biggest risk we took is that it doesn't sound like our first record,” Criss said. “We use a lot of the same instruments, but we played a lot more with sonic expansiveness. I feel like it's a good progression and accompaniment to Weathervanes. However, it's always a risk. There are always going to be people who wish bands just made the same album every two years.”

I know I certainly don’t really like it when a musician goes a completely new direction and abandons that particular brand of music I came to love. But, thankfully, Freelance Whales tried to do something different.

Some of the songs, such as “Spitting Image,” have more of an 80s, reminiscent of The Arcade Fire’s latest album, The Suburbs.

The new songs are also much longer and significantly less dependent on hooks. The nearly 8-minute epic, “DNA Banks,” can be compared to Weathervanes favorite “Ghosting,” but the new tune takes much longer to build and incorporates more horns and faded background vocals (think Bon Iver’s “Lump Sum” off of For Emma). The song opens up about halfway through, moving from ethereal, water-like sounds drowned in reverb (accompanied by banjo, of course) to strings and a repetitive, hopeful chant accented by a triumphant horn line. The song has Sigur Ros written all over it.

While the album is good, it’s not perfect. It does have a cohesive sound, but the length of Diluvia’s songs might put off some listeners. At times it seems like there’s no sense of pacing. The similarities in sound and length of most of the songs can at times put off the listener. The lyrical content also occasionally gets lost in Dadone’s soft spoken voice.

Despite its shortcomings (no album is perfect), Diluvia is distinct from Weathervanes. It manages to be almost entirely different yet still distinctly Freelance Whales — a feat not many bands can pull off (or try to). Darwin is in the DNA of this album.

“I would describe our song-writing process as Darwinian,” Criss said. “The strongest ideas survive. We write individually and collaboratively, but we try to not to get too personally attached to any one idea. We just evolution take its course."

Brandon Hook is the Online Assistant at Sojourners.

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