It should only take seconds into Free Time’s self-titled debut album opener “I Lost Again” for one to know what kind of album this is going to be — what kind of music, what kinds of songs — and it should also be abundantly clear as to whether or not to proceed: this still relatively peculiar brand of twee-tinged indie jangle pop rock is certainly not for everyone.
Free Time is the sound of classic Slumberland-lite/post-Sarah Records twee coming into its own à la K Records (the usual suspects), and indeed those frail, lovesick, sigh-inducing mellowed-out guitars at the beginning of its opener should cast any doubt about outside influences. Free Time were at least initially the brainchild of Australian singer-songwriter Dion Nania, and as the four-piece they currently are, they seem to more effectively evoke and have a better grasp of the partly overlapping twee/jangle/indie pop genres than even Twerps — another band against which they will inevitably be compared to, especially seeing as Nania was their live bassist on a recent tour. However, while Twerps veered toward a darker, psych-retro jangle rock sound throughout their own self-titled debut, Free Time now embrace the meekish, characteristically twee aspects of the very same genres both bands mine in their sound, underscored by Nania’s decidedly more frail, emotionally vulnerable-sounding vocals.
Free Time’s more pronounced twee-fixation is well evidenced on follow-up tracks still within the first half of the album, like “It’s Alright” and “It Doesn’t Stop.” Here, cheerful, upbeat, evocatively jam-worthy guitar melodies hark back to the sounds of Talulah Gosh, lighter-fare Heavenly, and the seemingly harmless threats of another sunny day. They also possess the majorly unappreciated knack The Softies had for evoking all things even remotely ever-so quaint and melancholic with the guitar.
But where Nania and co. really shine, may be in the latter half of the album, where on tracks like “Here And There,” “Just One,” and the slightly harder-rocking closer “Nothin But Nice,” they really capture the much sought-out sound of bittersweet jangle pop rock bliss, though specifically by way of adopting a harder-edged rock band sound. On the former, a song reminiscent of early Architecture In Helsinki, irresistible retro keyboards duet with Nania, who sings vaguely about a long-distance relationship, broken up yet carried along by emotionally detached guitars that keep the narrative going. “Just One” reaches beyond the Slumber/Sarah/K influences to 50s and 60s rock with a slight psych-rock twist, while “Nothin But Nice” is so stylistically different — up-tempo, louder — that it almost sounds like Nania and his cohorts are just getting started, the theme of love at great distances suddenly delivered with a full-band sound.
Whether the placement of the fuller-sounding, more rambunctious closer “Nothin But Nice” is supposed to hint at whatever musical direction Free Time take on future releases is unclear. For now, it’s nice to know there’s a welcome and quality addition to that mopey, jaded, bittersweet indie pop/jangle rock sound we have all grown or come to love — you know who you are.