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The Spin Doctor – Other Lives, “Tamer Animals”

Posted: 07/1/2011 6:49 am

Other Lives – “Tamer Animals” (tbd Records)

4.0 out of 5

Though Sigur Rós and Godspeed You! Black Emperor may not be the most obvious of reference points for a band typically associated with Americana and alt-country, in the case of Stillwater, Oklahoma five-piece, Other Lives, that is nevertheless the case. According to the band’s frontman, Jesse Tabish, the influence of the two bands were instrumental in crafting Tamer Animals, the follow-up to their 2009 self-titled debut. And though you won’t find any raucous, post-rock crescendos, what you will find is a band taking a brave leap beyond their humble roots. Incorporating strings, brass and woodwinds, Tamer Animals takes Other Lives’ Americana and brings a cinematic scope to a record that deftly defies genre constraints.

Much like Bill Callahan’s Apocalypse, released earlier this year, Tamer Animals is influenced by the American West as depicted in the Ennio Morricone scores of Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns. This is no more apparent than on Dust Bowl III (does the title not say it all?) and Old Statues, where twangy guitars meet tambourines, strings and a chorus of background vocals. Yet rather than simply rehash Morricone’s formula, tracks such as Woodwind, album opener Dark Horse, and the simply gorgeous Tamer Animals, wisely employ Phillip Glass-esque circularly repetitive piano, brass and woodwind measures, blended with sweeping string arrangements à la the aforementioned Sigur Rós. The results are stunning when the band combines the two approaches, as on As I Lay My Head Down, and For 12, the latter of which fuses twangy guitars, strings, marching percussion and piano: “But it feels like forever on the run, when your mind turns to fiction” sings Tabish, with a tinge of McCartney in his voice.

Tamer Animals is a moody listen and suggests the band could have quite a successful career writing film scores. Cuts like Desert, Landforms and the beautiful instrumental closer Heading East are both meticulously arranged and epic in scope, right down to the stylistic percussion, which avoids traditional snares and hi-hats, opting instead for mallets, triangles, bells and pounding bass drums.

While Other Lives’ debut was cut in a studio with longtime Beck drummer, Joey Waronker, for Tamer Animals, the band opted to record in their own space in Stillwater. Though Waronker still mixed the record, he wasn’t involved until the end of the recording process… a process that took a reported 14 months to complete. That being the case, it seems an odd choice to bury a voice as crisp and clean as Tabish’s so deep in the mix. Clearly this was a conscious decision, as it’s consistent from the record’s opening track to it’s closer, yet it would have been interesting to hear Tabish’s voice upfront with the orchestral arrangements firmly behind. That said, it’s difficult to fault a band that have made as many bold choices as Other Lives have here. In describing the band, Tabish said recently: “I’d rather us be an ensemble than a rock band.” That sentiment is certainly reflective of the material. With Tamer Animals vastly expanding the band’s musical origins, they no longer appear constricted by their Americana roots, and moving forward, that presents some exciting possibilities indeed. Perhaps those Sigur Rós and Godspeed references aren’t so out of place after all.

- Ewan Christie

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