DREAM-JOURNALING SHOULD come with a warning.
For Freelance Whales founder Judah Dadone, charting his slumbering conscious led to awkward Craigslist encounters — including a 50-year-old man posing as a 23-year-old girl — busking in New York City train stations, the creation of feathery pop music and a record deal. Not the typical route to success, but who’s complaining?
Call it “the bad and the boring” and you could have a working title for the claustrophobia-inducing show on the backstage of the Black Cat last Thursday night.
Cold and rainy, the bill didn’t get the greatest start. Running late, I missed most of the openers and came in time for Miami’s well-dressed Animal Tropical. And that’s when things went from wet to bad.
There are few words out there to describe the horror of the next 45 minutes of my life. Animal Tropical, fronted by its pants-unbuttoned, slightly-drunk lead singer play music that was described as “dealing lot with counterpoint and…” (I forget the rest). Practically, this meant that you had a bass and lead guitar fighting each other, while the drummer did his thing and the lead singer slurred-spoke songs with scintillating titles like, no joke, Dog Shit.
Yes, I understand irony.
But as the oldest of nine, I can tell you that there is nothing adorable or enjoyable about being trapped in a room with four screaming children who each want their own way. I wanted to be kind to our visitors from Florida’s tip, but, out of the entire set, there was literally one 45 second segment that was mildly enjoyable.
The room was packed for Freelance Whales, so I couldn’t surrender my spot and go get a drink, so I cut my losses, limited the damage of ear drum cells, and pressed my fingers firmly in my ears. Sometimes the emperor just has no clothes.
The crowd wasn’t suffocating me to get closer to the gyrations from Miami though, and when the Freelance Whales finally took the stage.
These kids from the boroughs have earned their fair share of blog buzz and hype over the last year. They’ve got the twee-tastic backstory, band members met via Craigslist, the album’s based off of dream journaling, and they get hot for any and all quirky instruments. It’s the type of stuff, sniveling-indie kids drown themselves in each day on the metro (yes, that was a nod to you Craig), which is only appropriate because the Freelance Whales cut their streets on the streets and train platforms of New York.
The show kicked off with the first part of Generator (for the record, the background commentary on the beginning of that video is particularly telling), and proceeded to strum, yelp and tease their way through most of the album. It was straight forward, predictable and unimaginative. If you liked the album, you’d like the set. If you weren’t sold on the twinkly tunes, there were no new layers added throughout the night.
The lead singer traffics in this cloying, hair-twirling on-stage persona that had him thanking the crowd for being, “lovely,” at least 9x throughout the night, which was good, because the mix completely lost him a few times. For the record, the band handled some pretty difficult issues with sound and feedback through the night without getting too pissy.
I could write about how the lead singer rolled his eyes back when he strummed his banjo, how the girl in the front flailed and danced like she was tripping on acid, or how I desperately wanted to leave before the encore, but all that would serve little purpose to describe this deathly boring band.
The problem with Freelance Whales and their debut album Weathervanes is that the album lacks balls. Yes, I said testicles.
There’s this bland, paint-by-the-numbers aesthetic that creeps into every section of the elaborately constructed LP. You want to like the opening track, with its slow building banjo and dramatic swells, but at the point of any type of climax, the song just levels off and moves on.
I told a friend that,
“it’s like taking all the little parts that make things “indie rock” in people’s head and putting them into a band. i think of them as what would happen if a brain-dead surgeon spawned an unholy child from between the loins of the arcade fire and the pajamas of owl city.”
There’s the dash of Sufjan with Broken Horse, and something saccharine in Hannah’s martinis. The album doesn’t sound bad, it just isn’t that interesting. It’s attracting ears because it takes these bits and pieces of sounds and ideas that people love, and harneses it all together. Listen a little longer and you’ll realize there’s little more than gloss and sparkles (glitter, if you must), holding this construction together. It’s a slippery slope once you peer behind the curtain and realize that there’s nothing to get your fingers into. No deeper than veneer, no matter how much Dadone’s frantically-rolling eyes might differ on that point, you’re still going to be left apathetic over the whole experience.
Ignore the music critic echo chamber on this one, and harpoon these whales.
Oh, and for what it’s worth, Scotland thought the album was boring.
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