The San Francisco indie-Americana seven-piece Or, The Whale know how to pen heart-clenching ballads and floor-board stomping rockers. This is amply demonstrated on their self-titled sophomore release, an album which also showcases considerable song-writing prowess and maturity. The record was recorded at Tiny Telephone Studios in San Francisco and features all of the hallmarks of a great folk/country album: a beautifully sad song about a dog that has passed away, bluesy tunes about heart-break, banjo, slinking bass, acoustic guitar, pedal steel guitar, five excellent vocalists, light percussion and a weathered sounding piano. The band presumably takes their name from the full title of the book Moby Dick (the full original title of which is Moby Dick, or, The Whale), which seems appropriate considering that one of the bands many strengths include literate, narrative lyrics.
Or, The Whale opens with a saloon-suited piano riff, which leads the way for a smooth bass line, finger-picked banjo, and rootsy co-ed harmonized vocals on the haunting tune “No Love Blues.” The song “Rusty Gold” is one of a number of tracks on the album that could be described as a “standout” and begins with simple, acoustic strumming as guitarist/vocalist Alex Robins sings “my dog died and it broke my heart” and continuing “now that she has been set free, I hope her ghost will visit me” before waves of pedal steel flow over the tune courtesy of guitarist Tim Marcus. The next track, “Never Coming Out,” clicks out time like an antique-watch as singer Lindsay Garfield sings “I have always lived in this house / and I’m never coming out.” It is a reclusive, solitary song that shines like a light through the peeling-paint of a old, dirt-covered window pane. The album’s biggest rocker is born from the thumping rhythm section and grimy, fuzz-covered guitar-riffs of “Black Rabbit” which sounds like it could have been written as a country rendition of an unreleased Pink Floyd track. “Giving Up Time” is another strong anthem that stomps and rolls before coming to a stop at the creaking floor boards that open the acoustic ballad “Shasta.” Washed in warmth and earthiness, Or, The Whale’s latest offering is a rewarding album worth spending some quality time with.
Follow the link above to pick up a copy of the album from the band’s website, or, even better, if you live in the Bay Area stop by and pick up your copy in person when the band performs at Cafe Du Nord on Saturday, November 14, 2009.
Head back to eating/sf to read Kasey’s review for Mendocino’s finest culinary jewel: Cafe Beaujolais.