Saturday, May 31, 2014

Whales - Size & Scale

The album Size and Scale, by Chicago band, Whales, stitches together nine tracks’ worth of 90s nostalgia (say THAT five times fast!) - a decade whose trademark sounds have been documented on some very memorable records. Unfortunately, Whales’ familiarity with the songs of that era is so transparent, and the songwriting so flimsy, that I was often unable to distinguish the band’s own creative voice from the flood of its influences.  Take for instance, the distracting “Tonight Tonight” (Smashing Pumpkins) aping on “Seafaring,” or on the next track, “On the Floor,” which could have been excellent, if it wasn't for all of the obvious nods to Radiohead.  These were only two of the many examples where instead of thinking about the song as I listened, another group’s instantly came to mind.  Another element working against them is drummer Randall Murphy’s eschewing of additional texture and dynamics for bombastic, bread-and-butter timekeeping.  His playing, while serviceable, squanders the opportunity to differentiate these songs from the bands that they were obviously modeled after.

Easily the best aspect of this collection is singer Maigin Blank’s gorgeous, melancholy vocals.  reminiscent of Sasha Bell from The Essex Green, the control, fragility, and warmth that Blank’s voice projects is Whales’ secret weapon.  A close second in Size and Scale’s “pros” column, are the album’s two instrumentals: “Level,” the polite piano-guitar-cymbals opener, and “Faithless,” a brooding cacophony that explodes upon impact.   Unless I’m missing something, both of these songs prove that Whales are capable of creating better music that isn't entirely hinged on the sounds of another band.  I don’t understand how the combination of its two best components can result in a good portion of the record being less than the sum of its parts - but here we are.  

There’s nothing wrong homage and influence, but without much else as a fulcrum, these songs provide little reason keep revisiting this album.  Bands like Yuck, Silversun Pickups, and Doves prove that you can mimic another group’s sound, and still write memorable music.  Whales should focus on their strengths, hone their song craft, and figure out what makes them unique.  Size and Scale isn't a terrible record, but one that elicits little more than a shoulder shrug,  Stream it. - DC

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