||26 August 2011
Orchestral Pop Americana with a Modern Classical twist sounds like a good day out. If it’s in the hands of Oklahoma five piece Other Lives it certainly is. On their second album, Tamer Animals, they have surpassed the more traditional rock of their debut with nonchalant wistful ease.
The influences of Glass/Reich jamming with Fleet Foxes are evident throughout this collection of widescreen atmospherics. Lead singer Jesse Tabish demonstrates his plaintively downcast vocals to good effect amongst the layers of repetitive brass, gliding guitars and ghostly keyboards.
'Dark House' sets the tone of the album perfectly with its looped horns, strings and new folk falsetto. It swoons and whets the appetite like all opening songs should. The melancholic vocals foreshadow the rest of the set and are exemplified on 'As I Lay My Head Down' where they sound distinctly like Robin Pecknold. The searing jolts of the strings work as a counterpoint to the Western-like galloping percussion. This evokes the American landscape as it hits its Morricone stride.
The first track of real substance is 'For 12' that has been recommended by Thom Yorke recently. And you can hear why. If Radiohead had a Joshua Tree period, this is what it might sound like. The clipped hurtle of the beats and ethereal synth samples compliment the chamber filled voice. The sad piano notes at intervals add an extra texture to a track that feels so modern yet yearns for the old American frontier.
The title track is one of high dramas and is a highlight of the album. It is just as distinctive as the previous tracks but may be easier to digest because of its immediacy. The stirring echoed piano and treated vocals of 'Tamer Animals' comes across more Editors at their most contemplative than CSNY. This isn’t a bad thing of course and the number’s black euphoria is a wonderful surprise in the context of the album.
The first acoustic number 'Dust Bowl III' is invested with the same icy effects noted on Other Lives favourites GY!BE. The mournful vocals hang like a milestone at the beginning before opening up into crashing drums and layered guitars.
Again repetition comes to the fore on 'Weather' but its rhythm is indebted as much to Post-Rock than to the neo-classical sphere. The harmonies lead a gothic lullaby edge and add a hypnotic strain to the beguiling cyclical structure.
The guitars on 'Old Statues' have the sound of sixties tremolo stabbing away however it is the angelic backing vocals that save the song from being a bit redundant. Also Tabish’s voice can become rather monotonous after a while so it’s to the band’s credit that the track doesn’t fade from the memory.
The Glass/Reich cycles are at their height on 'Woodwind' as the circular movement of the woodwind samples play against the almost psychedelic harmonies that don’t really pull off what they should do. At this stage you would be forgiven to pronounce a second half slump in proceedings especially after the hearing the beginning of 'Desert'. Reflective as it may be, it doesn’t leave a great impression until it speeds up and leads to a slow burner of an ending.
'Landforms', despite its effective clipped piano repetition, doesn’t leave a lot to be excited about either. The collection of voices is at their purest as they harmonise and the chorus is rousing but there is something missing to elevate it beyond the ordinary.
'Heading East' is as evocatively sad an ending as you could hope for. The horns mournfully signal a passing against the airy backing effects. It has a beautiful cinematic quality to it and sounds like a ghost ship sailing out on a foggy night.
The splendour of the album overall definitely outweighs its occasional problems. The twist of the post rock, modern classical and folk works on most tracks wonderfully well but there are misgivings to be addressed. Too many of the tracks on the second half lack a real punch and may not work for repeated listening. Sometimes Tabish’s vocals can be become a little trite in their sameness and monotony. Finally for a band who has obviously designed an album to be listened to as a cohesive piece, there isn’t any real flow to the tracks, they seem to meander from one to another without any real connection. In saying all this, Other Lives have the ability and musical tastes to certainly produce outstanding experimental pop music for years to come. The fruits of Tamer Animals will certainly do for now and here’s to much more.
- Tim Gannon