Other Lives - For Their Love
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When Other Lives dropped For Their Love lead single ‘Lost Day’ back in January, it came attached to a music video that can be a little bit of a dizzying watch. A continuously descending camera shot takes the viewer into countless iterations of the same room, each time showing the band’s five members with a different spread of instruments. Throughout the video, in various positions and changes of clothes, they are shown playing the violin, timpani, xylophone, bass clarinet, harmonium, and balalaika, in addition to the standard guitar, bass, and drums. In other frames, they are holding various seemingly arbitrary objects like books, blades, bowls, light fixtures, and globes – everything but the kitchen sink.

Such is the standard procedure for the Oregon-via-Oklahoma band, who, believe it or not, have actually scaled back their sound for this newest album. On 2011’s Tamer Animals, the orchestral textures were massive enough to be the defining characteristic of their music. Cavalcades of instruments of every colour enveloped the listener like clouds, taking the band’s already strong chamber-folk songwriting to new heights. On Rituals, they broadened their palette even further, dabbling in electronics and finally reaching the point where the songs sometimes got lost in their own details.

As if to correct course, the band now seems to have taken a sudden heel turn for the traditional. Their shortest album by a non-negligible margin, For Their Love, features a level of clarity not heard in the Other Lives catalog since their debut. Even at its peaks of sonic density, each element operates in its own sphere, allowing for more accessibility and coherence even as it jumps across a wide gamut of styles, ranging from the death-obsessed traditional folk influence of ‘We Wait’ to the unmistakable Latin flair of early Tindersticks on ‘All Eyes’ – even taking notes from post-punk giants as heavy as Have A Nice Life on ‘Nites Out’.

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With Jesse Tabish’s robust vocals now front and center, there is room for the stories he tells to come forth. The haunting opener ‘Sound of Violence’ enters with just vocals and guitar as Tabish waxes idyllic-on-the white-picket ideal of a successful life between refrains of “nothing compares to the sound of violence.” If the mixing and depth of this song don’t signal a new era for the band, the surprising addition of a bright, string-backed guitar solo certainly does. The uncharacteristically catchy ‘Cops’ is a more literal narrative, placing us directly in the shoes of a careless criminal facing the consequences after leaving evidence at the scene.

Perhaps the most striking song on the album, however, is ‘Dead Language’, which shows the band at their sparsest and most personal. Here, Tabish muses à la Depeche Mode on the futility of words, depicting them as either unintentionally ambiguous or actively used to deceive. “Are you lying to me?” he asks outright. “I guess I could figure, how strange you would be.” Later on, he wonders how he comes across to other people, and whether his public persona is true to who he really is. “I may just be a bit out of touch. But I don’t mean, though, to take it all so serious.”

According to Tabish, For Their Love is about finding meaning in life amid economic crisis and political tension. “Money, love, and death are always real and hard to cope with,” he said. “What does the individual choose to make these larger themes of life easier to deal with?” But it contains more questions than answers, offering not so much relief as an empathetic account from someone who also feels lost. We live in even scarier times than Other Lives imagined when they wrote these songs, but regardless of what horrors are upending the world at any given time, the tireless search for a purpose continues on.

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In sacrificing some of their signature extravagances, Other Lives have paved the way for a new, more worldly type of wilderness in their music. There’s as much brutal honesty and thoughtfulness packed into these 36 minutes as Rituals stretched across nearly an hour. Having already established themselves as foremost artists of kaleidoscopic montage, they now grant us the privilege of knowing them simply as people. And it is, undoubtedly, a privilege.

For Their Love is available now to buy and stream.