Other Lives is full of warped orchestral motifs and dark, damning melodies, certainly not the description one would imagine when reaching for a "pop record."Embodying the near-opposite of the sloppy distorted rock oozing from the corners of Brooklyn and LA, the band is as precise as can be with their songwriting. Meticulous attention to expansive riffs with extensive use of woodwinds and haunting choral flourishes make the band's latest LP, Tamer Animals, a wild ride for contemporary ears. Those familiar with the pastoral influences of Midlake and Fleet Foxes may already be suited to appreciate the marriage of modern rock and historically popular aesthetics, but unlike these other bands, Other Lives dips deep into the caverns of melancholy as well as folk, and seem to shoot out into space.
Above: performing an acoustic rendition of "E Minor" from their self-titled debut.
With a sound so chaotic, stuck out of time in both the past and the future, the band often finds themselves displaced, but not with their recordings. Their manager also happens to be the head of TBD Records, where luckily the band found a natural home for their self-titled debut. "We knew everybody from the label and had worked so closely even to the buildup of the first record" recounts Jesse Tabish, Other Live's frontman and main vocal presence. Tabish found himself thinking the obvious about the pairing, that "these people are going to care more about the record than anyone else, because they've kind of been married to it from the beginning." Since then, they've gone from playing locally in small clubs in OK to opening for beloved acts like Bon Iver and even Radiohead.
"Playing on large stages with these large audiences was kind of a mind trip" Tabish said. "With the small audience you know that they are right there...the large audience... you don't feel that. You have to look inward a little bit and play more like an ensemble."
Other Lives began some eight years ago, as an instrumental project called Kunek. The focus on melodic contour and instrumentals might explain a bit of the band's brooding sound, rooted in classical disciplines. They even sound like a folk band from the 60s, hailing from "Stillwater Oklahoma" and claiming classical music as a defining influence. Other sources, like post-rock and the lush constructions of Sigur Ros, have allowed Other Lives to develop a truly unique blend of past and present. Other loose sources include the romantic era Ravel, and 20th Century masters like Stravinsky and Phillip Glass. Incorporating orchestral elements, with a focus on alternative rock, yielded the depth and beauty of Tamer Animals, but Tabish doesn't attribute all of their preoccupations to mimicry. "[Classical music] has maybe not a direct correlation" Tabish said, "but I always listen and aspire to it."
From the opening herald of horns on "Dark Horses" to the low rumble of orchestral magic on "Head East," Tamer Animals is indeed a sonic journey through nearly a century of symphonic imagination, but not one reserved for musical scholars. Marrying that to quick, easily consumable bursts of song, Other Lives has created an album both effortlessly enjoyable and introspective in its scope, a difficult-to-achieve combination for today's cynical landscape of fifteen second Youtube sensations, spectacle, and perceived cool. "Tamer Animals is, after all, a pop record" Tabish said. We'll soon see if the intention matches the result.