“Voices everywhere, caught again in the devil’s snare,” belts lead vocalist and guitarist Alex Robins of San Francisco-based Or, the Whale on the second song of the band’s newest album. The song, “Datura,” is a rollicking ode to the hallucinogenic properties of jimson weed, but could just as easily be a description of the band itself. The soaring vocal harmonies and Neil Young-inspired guitar riffs found on Or, the Whale’s self-titled sophomore album yield a fiendishly potent listening experience, which may even provoke your own hallucinations.
On the heels of 2007’s Light Poles and Pines (which featured the band’s debut single “Call and Response” and helped earn them a 2008 Hollywood Music Award for Best Americana/Roots Artist as well as a coveted spot on Radio & Records Top 100 Americana Artists of 2008), Or, the Whale cannot so easily be pinned down. Tracks like “Black Rabbit,” which features a gale-force chorus above electric feedback and pounding drums, play out as if in an effort to prove just how hard the band can rock. At other times, as on “Never Coming Out”-a paranoid and agoraphobic rail ride that explodes into a final a capella starburst-Or, the Whale showcases their ability to present a reflective, stripped-down arrangement (no small feat for a band with seven members). Likewise, the creeping “Keep Me Up” shows how Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter” might sound if re-imagined through the mournful wail of pedal steel.
Like any good San Francisco band, Or, the Whale partially owes its inception to the online bulletin board service Craigslist; at one point, Robins and Matt Sartain (guitar and vocals) posted an ad titled “Wanna Form a Sweet Country Rock Band?” and recruited fellow vocalist Lindsay Garfield from a listing she had written looking for a guitar player. From there, the three set about enlisting bandmates Julie Ann Thomasson on keyboards and vocals, Justin Fantl on bass, Jesse Hunt on drums, and later Tim Marcus on pedal steel guitar.
Four years later, after a live appearance on Good Morning America, attention in USA Today, Paste, Magnet, and Billboard magazines, sold-out engagements on both coasts, and shows with the likes of Fleet Foxes, Devil Makes Three, The Dodos, and Two Gallants, Or, The Whale has grown into something that is neither country nor rock, but exists somewhere in the space between the two.
And “space” is certainly the new name of the game for this band. After recording Light Poles and Pines in a single extended weekend, the band made sure to take their time with their new effort, meticulously arranging each song to allow room for each instrument to contribute in the most effective way possible. The result is an album with more complexity and shape, not to mention diversity and emotional impact.
Or, the Whale is a band that will rock you, make you dance, and maybe even inspire you to contribute to their amazing vocal pyrotechnics-voices everywhere, indeed.
OR, THE WHALE
02/27 – Solana Beach, CA Belly Up Tavern
03/09 – Portland, OR Doug Fir Lounge ^
03/10 – Seattle, WA Tractor Tavern ^
03/11 – Cottage Grove, OR Axe and Fiddle ^
03/12 – San Francisco, CA The Independent ^
03/13 – Los Angeles, CA Hotel Cafe ^
03/14 – San Diego, CA Bar Pink ^
03/15 – Tucscon, AZ Club Congress ^
03/17-03/20 – Austin, TX SXSW
^ = w/ The Maldives
Or, the Whale
Or, the Whale
Street Date: Sept. 22, 2009
1. No Love Blues
3. Rusty Gold
4. Never Coming Out
5. Count The Stars
6. Keep Me Up
7. Black Rabbit
8. Giving Up Time
10. Terrible Pain
11. No Death