Or, The Whale Light Poles And Pines

[Seany; 2009]

Rating: 2.5/5

Styles: alternative country
Others: Old 97s, Lucinda Williams, so on and so forth

San Francisco’s Or, The Whale is, in many ways, prototypical of everything we love about alternative country and, simultaneously, everything we hate about alternative country. Indeed, anybody whose ears perk at the sound of weathered harmonies, steel guitar moans, or brushed-snare shuffles will find plenty to be enamored with on the band’s recently re-released debut LP, Light Poles And Pines. But country music is a genre built on a notion of working-class, rural (or at least semi-rural), regionally-specific authenticity. Even the much-reviled products of the modern Nashville music machine manage to speak to specific instances common among target demographics, most of which still identify with small-town, rural America and working-class ethos.

What Or, The Whale has done here is wrangle a handful of admittedly talented musicians to create a sort of portrait of what country music is allegedly supposed to sound like and look like and feel like, without, of course, coming off too redneck or too rustic or too unpolished. This image of American identity is composed of nameless people in nameless towns functioning as though they could be anywhere. Sprinkles of tried and tired tropes dot this featureless landscape. It seems as though the band’s vision is blurred not by the dust and sweat and drunkenness that gave us Woody Guthrie and Jimmie Rogers and Hank Williams, nor is it blinded by the sparkling rhinestone glitz of countrypolitan Nashville, nor is it rushed by as twinkling lights on the horizon seen from the highway. No, this is a vision blurred by vagueness attempting to evoke something that might or might not exist in the lives of those presenting it.

Indeed, Or, The Whale’s debut is a sketch of country authenticity held at arm’s length. Even as it unwinds its charming, relaxed songs with a casual ease, this sort of pleasantness is superficial.

1. Call And Response
2. Saint Bernard
3. Threads
4. Isn’t She Awful
5. Death Of Me
6. Crack A Smile
7. Fixin’ To Leave
8. Rope Don’t Break
9. Life And Death At Sea
10. Gonna Have To
11. Bound To Go Home
12. Prayer For The Road
13. Fight Song

Most Read