San Francisco’s tricky topography makes building options finite, which in turn makes its denizens especially good at working with limited space. The Bay area residents that comprise Or, The Whale have taken that skill outside of their apartments and into to their music, finding a way to gracefully incorporate seven instruments and four vocalists into one seamless act. Of course, the general rule of thumb for playing barn-burning country rock is the more, the merrier. But Or, The Whale is just as adept at swooning and spare balladry” bleary-eyed tales of love gone wrong that feel intimate even if delivered by seven strangers. And therein lies the rub.
The band”lead by the reedy warble of singer-guitarist Alex Robins”met through a Craigslist ad back in 2005, bringing together a motley collection of backgrounds: folk and funk, country and punk, and a little chamber music thrown in for good measure. The result is a country-fried mix of treacle and grit that incorporates anything from guitars and banjos to timpani, glockenspiels and harmoniums. Though Robins may profess, My favorite songs are all slow / Quick ones are over too soon, he’ll inevitably call his own bluff with a killer country rock stomper. But the real gems here are Or, the Whale’s sleepy, old-time waltzes, steeped in sadness and sung in Carter Family-style harmony. Whether they’re making your heart race, or bringing it down to an achy throb, this is one band who’ll get your blood pumping with time to spare.