"The Whalestoe Tapes is the debut offering from Brooklyn artist Grandpa Was a Lion, recorded and reordered over the course of a year it is a journey from purest lo-fi to dreamy post-production, an extremely interesting record and a very promising talent.
Opening track ‘Hello From The Farm’ is some serious lo-fi, it sounds as though it’s been recorded on a dictaphone from distance, but if you can adjust your ears to the sound quality, there are some outstanding ideas present. A simple two chord song that slowly builds with some dreamy melodic vocals coming from Justin D’Onofrio as waves of sound pour in and out, backing vocals and what sounds like a harmonica, but could equally be an organ given the sound quality, join together to wash over the simple song and make something rich. ‘Mobile Alabama Blues’ suddenly grabs your attention with a noteable increase in sound quality, as the title suggests a dark bluesy number with tremolo rich lead guitar riffs. ‘Whitecaps’ is a very interesting arrangement for a song with instruments dropping in and out with a constant high pitched almost feedbacking synth floating around, as some exceptional vocal melodies rise towards the end of the track, one of my favourite songs for a while.
‘Dancer’ is as sad and beautiful as the album gets, it is clear that D’Onofrio has a great nack for melody and the vocal lines build together here brilliantly. Halfway through the acoustic led ‘London’ in comes a piano part that is pure Abbey Road era McCartney, giving way to synths and pounding acoustic guitar parts which build smoothly. ‘The Light’ is a return to pure lo-fi acoustic and ‘Elizabeth You’re A Failure’ is a different beast altogether, with grainy synths and distorted vocals being pulled in and out of existence.
There is something truly rare about this album, its ability to balance lo-fi with a grand vision of sound. It’s like Brian Wilson trying to make a masterpiece for 20 bucks, but somehow, it totally works. The ideas here are far bigger than their production, but they don’t necessarily lose out because of it, there’s something inexpressibly special about this record, it just works. It just touches you, and that’s surely the best thing we can say about any record.
‘Mississippi Dreams’ is a soft acoustic ditty that marries Conor Oberst with Daniel Johnston, before giving way to some disgustingly distorted guitar chords which build the song to an uncomfortable but interesting finale. Fittingly the album ends where it starts, just one year down the line, ‘Hello From The Farm Reprise’ is a cleaned up version of the opening track which builds and falls into an almost hidden track for the final couple of minutes. This is an excellent record, thoroughly recommended."
released 02 March 2011