Albums referred to as “growers”—those that take a while to win over listeners—too often end up being mediocre releases by bands that the recommender loves so much that he or she is willing to put the time, effort, and delusion into discovering a few agreeable morsels. But in the case of Diluvia, the second album from New York indie-rock outfit Freelance Whales, a few extra spins open up a truly grand adventure that a cursory glance simply can’t uncover.
Diluvia is built differently than its predecessor, Weathervanes, in that the band has placed a greater emphasis on developing atmosphere than unleashing immediate hooks. In turn, Judah Dadone and company have toned down the quirkiness in favor of richly textured creations that take longer to unfold (Weathervanes had only one song that passed the five-minute mark; Diluvia has five) and, inevitably, take a little while longer to reveal their inner beauty. (Is it a coincidence that diluvia is defined as “rock material deposited by glaciers”?) Not that Freelance Whales’ music has changed all that drastically: There’s still a healthy helping of banjo, and things like the piano at the beginning of “Follow Through” and the guitar that shows up halfway through “The Nothing” demand yet more Ben Gibbard-related comparisons. (Though Dadone’s vocals no longer bring to mind the Death Cab/Postal Service frontman the way they did on Freelance Whales’ debut.)
But this time around, the synths steer nearly everything in a dreamy direction, and enough can’t be said of Doris Cellar’s increased presence on the microphone. Her voice hits its peak during “Winter Seeds,” a slow-moving, airy piece of accessible yet smart pop that finds Cellar getting her Elizabeth Fraser on. It might not be as traditionally catchy as, say, Weathervanes’ “Starring,” but it just might be the band’s finest moment.
The lyrics on Diluvia play well with the musical proceedings, offering more mystery than clear-cut storylines as it talks of pterodactyl bones, DNA on a boat in the Euphrates, and having “the rations to go anywhere.” The overall effect is something Freelance Whales can call their own—because for all of the comparisons one can find here (in addition to the above, traces of The Killers can be heard in “Locked Out,” and the album closes on a Mew-like high note with “Emergence Exit”), by album two they’ve developed a distinctive sound from their corner of the synth-folk universe, and they’ve done it while expanding their palette. With this grower, Freelance Whales have avoided the sophomore slump and grown into one of indie rock’s most intriguing new acts.