Thursday, June 16, 2011

Weathervanes by Freelance Whales

I really hope the album cover
is actually made out of felt

I think Freelance Whales is a brilliant name. I've been pondering about the sorts of jobs one might hire a freelance whale for. My favourite theory so far has the freelance whales holding a mobster  stranglehold on the whale watching tourist industry. If you want to take a boat out and look at whales, you have to pay these guys off first. The first time you don't pay them,  the whales will refuse to swim majestically beside your boat and it will be super lame. If you don't pay them the second time you go out, these fuckers want your blood. Just every whale in the ocean will find you and they will sink your boat and rip every passenger on board in two. Do not fuck with these guys. Seriously. They will fill your shoes with concrete, drop you in the ocean, and eat you like an underwater lollipop.  

Another idea I had was for a ghostbusters style advert. Except instead of ghosts it'd be

"If you got some fish
stinking up your fridge
Who you gonna call?

Let's get onto the review shall we?

A Recipe for Mum's Own 'Freelance Whales':

Take equal parts Sufjan Stevens and Death Cab for Cutie and blend together thoroughly with an electric mixer. Add to saucepan and bring just to boil. Next, stir in one cup of repeatedly sifted Owl City. It’s best to double check the sifting and make certain that you’ve got all the chunks of shit out of the Owl City. Pretty sure screwing that up will ruin the recipe. Once the mixture has thickened to the proper consistency, remove from heat and put in a non-stick pan. Let it sit overnight in the fridge. For increased enjoyment, sprinkle the top with a healthy amount of Phoenix.

Serve with aimless summer drives to nowhere, balconies watching the sunset, or beach dance parties.

Three songs into ‘Weathervanes’ the only thing I could think was “These are the pop songs that should be playing on the radio”.   They’re light, catchy and have good flow. The lyrics are whimsical and poetic but not in a pretentious hipster sort of way. Also, there’s a banjo. Banjos are the best. Every album from now on needs at least one banjo.

The influences in 'Weathervanes' aren't difficult to spot but Freelance Whales manage to carve out their own unique sound while dishing out a fairly diverse catalog of songs. And as we all know, diversity is a good thing.

Three first three tracks "Generator ^ First Floor", "Hannah", and "Location" give you a good taste to Freelance Whales' flexibility while sucking you into their style.

"Generator ^ First Floor" slowly builds for a minute and a half around a banjo riff before dropping off into the first example off odd yet charming lyrics.

"Hannah" is a slower song, sung overtop of an electronic intro but contrasted with fastpaced lyrics that weave together so nicely.

"Location": Pure love for this song. Here's the opening lyrics:

"I am starting to sense your location
You are somewhere in the attic
Looking something close to tragic
Dating t-shirts and your mattress
I'm floating on the stairwell
With my toes grazed in the cedar
Thinking softly would a tender box leave them in..."

Other highlights on this album include the very Sufjan Stevens sounding "Broken Horses" and the just-oh-my-goodness-so-sweet-and-adorable "We Could Be Friends". If kittens could be turned into audiofiles, they would be "We Could Be Friends"

This cat. You could be friends with him.
Attribute: Heather Hopkins
This album is a great summer album. Just don't listen to the lyrics too much or it might get you a little down. I give it a 4.5/6.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Codes and Keys

There's a book I'm rather fond of wherein a father gives to his son ten commandments to live by. Number seven is: "Never let a week go by without investing in new vinyl". At this point in my life, it's neither practical or responsible to buy vinyl once a week so I get by on streaming and torrenting and modified this commandment into "At the very least, listen to one new album a week". I've decided I'm going to try and do one album review a week. Today: Codes and Keys by Death Cab for Cutie.

How many years will it take until "pound sign"
is permanently replaced by "hashtag"?

The Bad:

The opening three tracks of this album 'Home is a Fire', 'Codes and Keys', and 'Some Boys' are at best forgettable and at worst (I'm looking at you 'Some Boys') annoying. It's unfortunate they named the album after a song that feels like Death Cab trying just a little bit to hard to sound like Death Cab. I'd like to think that the band was running out of studio time and Ben Gibbard was too busy working on the lyrics to 'Underneath the Sycamore' or the guitar riff to 'You Are a Tourist' (more on these later) to record so the record executives just got some stand-in named Ben Biggard off the set of a nearby fantasy film and had him do it instead.

Still though, it couldn't be as bad as 'Some Boys'. The repetitive and simple lyrics make this sound like an abandoned attempt at a pop song that somehow managed to sneak back on the album and hide in the bathroom stall until the release date when it suddenly stumbled out, disoriented from subsisting for months on a diet of crackers and toilet wine. You stare at it, in disbelief, but with a shimmer of recognition in your eyes before it ultimately vomits all over you and you regret ever giving it the chance.

Thankfully, after the weak start, Codes and Keys starts to hit it's stride.

The Good:

 Things start to pick up with 'Doors Unlocked and Open', a more upbeat guitar-focused track than what we've heard so far from this album. The main thing I like about this song is how when I saw it performed live, my car keys were locked inside of my car. I had a good chuckle about that but I suspect this is not the case for most people. The thing with this song is that with the slow start of the album, I was starting to lose attention and this pulled me right back into it.

Let's take a moment now and reflect on the guitar riff of 'You are a Tourist'. It's impossible not to take notice of this song if it's playing. The lyrics are relatively simple compared to other Death Cab songs but that riff, oh goodness that riff. I haven't heard anything that infectious in months and I've been doing epidemiology lately.

Hong Kong Flu - 0
Death Cab - 1 

Let's skip a few tracks and talk about 'Underneath the Sycamore' for a bit. Why do I like this song? Well, it's pretty catchy but not catchy enough to be remarkable. No, like with so many Death Cab songs what really  makes this song great is the bleak lyrics.  This is a song that you might catch yourself singing before you know all the words and that is a mistake. Don't be fooled by the upbeat chorus, this is a fully depressing song. I like being tricked like that. To be singing along and then realize what exactly I'm singing and have it be something awful. Brilliant. Thanks for this. To save you some of the trouble, here's the opening lyrics:

"Lying in a field of glass underneath the overpass. Mangled in the shards of a metal frame. Woken from the dream by my own name"

Next up is the obligatory soft song to show off Gibbard's interesting,  wavering vocals and lyrical prowess: 'St. Peter's Cathedral'. For previous examples of this type of song, please see  'Bixby Canyon Bridge' and 'I Will Follow You into the Dark'. I don't like this one as much as those previous examples but I do have a pretty heavy bias towards 'Bixby Canyon Bridge' since it details the culmination of Gibbard's Kerouac obsession. I'm including this song in the 'good' section simply because his voice is so visceral when it's the main attraction. Right after this, is a nice acoustic affair 'Stay Young, Go Dancing'. I have a weakness for acoustic songs. Also: if you google 'Stay Young, Go Dancing', the second hit is a photo taken in the botanical gardens. That's endeared this song to me quite a bit and now I want to go to a ceilidh.

The Average:

Following 'You are a Tourist' is a track with a lengthy piano intro called 'Unobstructed Views'. It must be said the lengthy bass intro to 'I Will Possess Your Heart' annoyed me for a very long time (almost as long as the intro) before I started to enjoy it. I already like the piano intro and I suspect that it will only grow on me like some sort of parasitic fungus.

The final three tracks on the album, round everything out in a similar fashion. 'Monday Morning' and 'Portable Television' continue the pace set by the ending to 'Unobstructed Views' and walk us nicely into 'Underneath the Sycamore'. On their own, I'd say they were mediocre songs, but this album has a really nice construction and as supporting players, they work quite well.

The Really Quite Nitpicky That I'm Positive Nobody But Myself Was Bothered By:

With an album name like 'Codes and Keys' I was really hoping that there'd be some sort of contest that involved decoding a secret message. It would have been the perfect opportunity for me to combine my interest in cryptography with my interest in getting awesome free things. I would be lying if I were to say I'm not bitter about this.

The Rating:

Since this is my first review, I'd best explain how I'm going to rate albums. I believe that a 6 point scale will work best for my purposes

0.5 - Anal Leakage
1.0 - That ringing you get in your ears after having spent the night at a concert
1.5 - When you're talking on the phone to someone and you're really quite busy with something else but they just won't shut the hell up
2.0 - I listened to the whole album and I don't know why. It has no redeeming qualities. Not even the cover art
3.0 - If this was playing in the background at a party or my workplace, I'd be pretty chuffed.
3.5 - This album is like that one friend you have that you don't talk to often but you see at parties lots and they seem like they'd be really cool to hang out with sometime but you're both just so busy that you never get anything organized and then years later you run into them at some bar, have a few drinks, reminisce about good times that you technically didn't share before finally going to bed with a lingering thought of where your youth went.  
4.0 - Let me count the ways I love you. One, two, three, four. You get a 4.
4.5 - Oh, this album is playing? Excuse my while I go freshen up and unbutton the top of my blouse
5.0 - That feeling you get when someone you fancy says your name.
5.5 - This album is the bee's knees. It is the wasp's nipples. It is, I would go so far as to say, the entire set of erogenous zones of every major flying insect of the Western world.
6.0 - The album I just reviewed is titled 'In the Aeroplane Over the Sea' by Neutral Milk Hotel.

I give Codes and Keys a 4.0/6.0