Review: Or, The Whale – Or, The Whale (Seany, 2009)
Why isn’t this band famous? They combine the best elements of West Coast ‘60s rock pioneers (Airplane, Dead, Springfield and Grape), UK folk (Fairport Convention, et al.), and the indie roots view of music as border-free. Alex Robins and Lindsay Garfield’s harmonies on “Rusty Gold” brings to mind Slick, Kantner and Balin, while the plaintive opening lyric (“My dog died and it broke my heart / letting go is the hardest part”) threatens to renew the tears once shed for Henry Gross’ “Shannon.” Here the sorrow is more philosophical than purely sentimental, and the chorus gears up to the anthemic feel of the Airplane’s “Crown of Creation.” The band’s tagline, “voices everywhere,” is a brag fulfilled, as the studied tempos provide opportunity to deeply explore duet and harmony singing as multiple singers bend and stretch the lyrics in vocal textures that complement and contrast. Even Tim Marcus’ pedal steel adds emotional texture to the words with its instrumental voice. The band mixes rock, country, folk and soul, but not all at once, letting one style lead and others tint the songs with subtle colors that create a somber mood. You can pick out influences, such as the Gram/Emmylou (or Phil/Don) vibe of “Count the Stars,” the Neil Young riffs, or the title nod of “Black Rabbit,” but the band never loses itself in nostalgic reverie. Returning to the question of the band’s lack of worldwide acclaim, maybe it’s due to their oddly punctuated name, because it’s certainly not a lack of great music.