Let me talk to you for a brief moment about the band Owl City. Surely you’ve heard at least one Owl City song if you’ve turned on the radio in the last several months, be it number one single “Fireflies” or the breakout hit “Hey Seattle”. Please be aware that you may not KNOW you heard an Owl City song if you’ve not been exposed to the record “Ocean Eyes” or heard a keen DJ mention it on the air, I could understand where you’d say there was no way you’ve heard a track by this one man digital band. The point I’m trying to get across is that Owl City is immensely popular right now, and amidst a community of more respected artists and music fans, this guy is nothing short of a joke. Yes, he knows how to write a compelling song, but the way he so blatantly rips off so many other artists to do it is what gets arrows shot in his direction. I mean, he’s basically said in interviews that he was “inspired” by The Postal Service and wanted to make an album in the vein of “Give Up,” and his attempt at imitation has turned into flat-out mainstream pandering. Why am I talking about this? Because the debut album by the band Freelance Whales seems to work on a similar concept. Pick one, two or five respected indie artists, and then do your best to imitate them. This seems to be the modus operandi behind the Freelance Whales album “Weathervanes”.
You know that cutesy indie pop band you love – you know, the one that creates bouncy songs with gleeful synths, handclaps and xylophones? This sort of music can come from any number of indie pop bands, and at some point on “Weathervanes,” Freelance Whales do that too. Remember that time when that one intricately orchestrated Sufjan Stevens song was played for you and it blew your mind? I guess Freelance Whales remember as well, because they’ve got a couple songs that eerily creep with that sort of orchestral pop joy. Let’s not forget about shooting for that epic anthem sort of song, the kind The Arcade Fire seem to specialize in. Apparently Freelance Whales also have a garage full of instruments and a soaring melody, so this next song is for all you fans of Win Butler and Co. This shit’s great, to the point where maybe even Apple will want some for their next iPad commercial or they’ll want a track to use on that movie soundtrack where the quirky Michael Cera stumbles his way into a romance with that hot-to-trot indie chick.
So despite all the figurative hate I’ve been spewing all over Freelance Whales in the past two paragraphs, I do want to go on the record as saying that I don’t dislike “Weathervanes”. The thing is, I absolutely know that I should, but the album seems like such harmless fun that being overly harsh on it feels like shooting a newborn puppy in the face. Freelance Whales mean well, I hope, and the songs on this record, while mostly poor imitations, actually sound good. The production is clean as a whistle and I suppose if I had a friend with a love of pop music who was having trouble getting into indie rock, I’d hand them “Weathervanes” as a way to bridge a gap and pave a path towards something more dignified like Belle & Sebastian. What I’m trying to say is that Freelance Whales are a necessary evil (not to call the band evil). They’re filling a void and I legitimately hope it works out for them. Plus, between the multitude of instruments and group-sung choruses, most of these songs are tough to resist. If you take a brief glance at the album cover, you’ll notice it’s a cloth landscape that’s stitched together with a button in the middle. It’s completely appropriate given the patchwork quilt of influences you’re able to pick out across the album’s 13 tracks and 45 minutes. Now imagine trying to wear a piece of clothing that was stitched together in such a manner. Between the random colors and awkwardly large stitches, you’d probably get a lot of stares – and not in a positive way. The reviews for “Weathervanes” may be scathing, but Freelance Whales are a band that deserves and will find a wider audience outside of professional critics and bloggers. So screw what I’m saying, and screw what some person from a major publication has written. If you like this band, good for you. I may not be able to recommend “Weathervanes” in good conscience, but take the mp3 below and go with your gut on this one.