I saw Other Lives at End of the Road this year, and was completely blown away. Each member played an average of 5.4 instruments (and that average was brought down significantly by their drummer, the lazy git), they silenced the room (tent) for a full hour and seemed genuinely humble despite their incredible sound. Compound that with the fact that I loved the new album (see below) and that Thom Yorke has professed his fondness for the band, and Other Lives are looking pretty exciting in my eyes. Here’s my review of their second album, Tamer Animals, originally written for For Folk’s Sake.
If you like at least some music, it seems unlikely that you could possibly dislike Other Lives. It’s just a fact. Tamer Animals, their second album under this band moniker, is a record satiated by generic influences, gracefully pirouetting from one to another whilst surreptitiously tying them all together with a single ribbon of recognisably indie-folk vocals and outlook. It’s important to emphasise that gracefulness too – this is not a hotchpotch of sounds crudely forced into a single package, but rather an artful set of ideas working seamlessly together, within and off of one another, always flowing and never jarring. The core of Other Lives, made up of pianist/vocalist Jesse Tabish, cellist Jenny Hsu and drummer Colby Owens, began as an instrumental group, and whilst only one track on Tamer Animals adheres to that particular style, it’s the knowledge of how to make instruments emote as much as vocals, so necessary in instrumental music, that lies at the heart of the album.
That knowledge has led the band to create an album with the qualities of what, nowadays, constitutes popular culture’s most self-evidently emotive instrumental music – the soundtrack. First track, ‘Dark Horse’ ripples with staccato trumpet and woodwind reminiscent of Don Davis’ self-reflexive score to The Matrix while ‘Desert’ mixes the string sweeps of the ‘60s Star Trek theme with an insistent bass drumbeat to dark effect as Tabish mumbles, ‘Desert / Reclaims the land’. It could almost be a description of the sound rather than a subject. Of course, this knowing effect could be a double-edged sword, impressing someone who cares but becoming ultimately insubstantial – what’s a soundtrack without a subject? Luckily for us, Other Lives know just how to reign it in. First single ‘For 12’ is just as partial to a grand sting strain as the rest of the album, but its acoustic rhythm guitar, country electric twangs and prominent vocals emphasise a structured song with the affects of cinematic grandeur. The album’s title track pushes this further, with a booming piano and percussion spine that nearly tips it into White Lies gloom-anthem territory.
It’s this constant interplay between the classical and the contemporary that marks Tamer Animals as a truly exciting album. In ‘Old Statues’ we hear the creepy gleam of the warped ‘50s ballad (last heard on this year’s Creep On Creepin’ On by FFS favourites, Timber Timbre) meet a gentle core of guitar and plaintive vocals, whilst ‘Weather’ melds the beat experimentation of noughties Radiohead with quivering string sections. Every track has been immaculately composed (and I use that word deliberately), creating an album of never-ending intrigue. Even the final track, ‘Heading East’, an instrumental, classically classical track is shrouded behind a wall of impenetrable production fuzz, classical lo-fi if you will – a marker to the listener indicating how nothing is truly of a single essence on Tamer Animals.
By all means treat this album as a soundtrack, let it wash over you, because even as you do every trick, nod or influence will draw you back out again. Tamer Animals sounds like everything else and nothing else, an endlessly novel, engaging and fantastic exercise in creative songwriting.