Album Review: Other Lives – For Their Love

[ATO; 2020]

A whole host of instruments familiar and unfamiliar can be found throughout Other Lives‘ four albums. Picking apart these complexities is one of the best parts about being a fan: realizing how sparse the drums are, discovering ghostly background vocals, and connecting Jesse Tabish’s lyrics to the band’s arrangements, to name a few highlights. This is still true, nine years after their breakout album Tamer Animals, which landed them not only a cultish following but a coveted spot opening for Radiohead. 2015’s Rituals was a left hook from the band, who wasted zero time making their “electronic record” while continuing to strategically bury compelling sounds underneath a pysch-folk haze.

Five years later, we have a new Other Lives record. Recorded on their own terms in an A-frame house (as depicted on the album cover) in Oregon’s Cooper Mountain Region, For Their Love is definitely the same band as before, but almost disappointingly so. Gone are much of the fun mysteries behind the arrangements of your average Other Lives tune. Each of the 10 tightly-wound tracks lays its hand out for all to see. “We wanted 10 songs that held up by themselves,” explained Tabish about the process.

Indeed, For Their Love showcases a much more collaborative and balanced Other Lives, and the mix makes the songs more immediate. Though this might disappoint fans who were eager to dig deep into this record, it isn’t always bad. Those spectre-like vocals that were buried so deep on Tamer Animals cuts are now the focal point, accentuating the most poignant words. “Ah you really fucked me up this time,” sings Tabish with his wife Kim, now a fixture in the band, on standout “Cops”. As ever, it’s not what Tabish sings, but how he sings it.

There’s an impressionism to lines like “It’s a lost day man, for the newborn seeker” on “Lost Day”, but the drama remains evident. Furthermore, there’s drama everywhere on For Their Love. “Hey Hey I” explodes with one of the band’s most consistent drum grooves layered atop a Tame Impala-inspired piano syncopation: “Hey man, something don’t seem right / they only come at night!” sings an ecstatic chorus at the song’s peak. Conversely, “We Wait” is incredibly somber, as Tabish recounts the horror of his best friend’s murder at 17 years old. “It’s been haunting me for the last decade,” Tabish admits. “It’s part of my larger narrative of dealing with troubling stuff in my life.”

With this haunting tale in mind, you wonder what other “trouble” is being addressed throughout For Their Love. Few songwriters have been able to stray away from addressing “these troubling times,” but Tabish often gets by through penning more vague poetry. It works to the band’s favor, but they struggle to make the full album experience stick, which is most apparent on For Their Love.

This is more a collection of songs than an album. Each individual song is a painting, but the landscape barely shrinks even on the album’s softer moments. “Dead Language” is a welcome reprieve from the bombast of the singles, but still can’t help filling out the EQ spectrum by its end. Closer “Sideways” is perhaps the best song here, but this is largely due to the fact that it stays slow and peaceful throughout.

Take any one moment and you’ll find an engaging piece of pop rock, but, where previous albums blended freak folk with Joey Waronker’s bizarre production, For Their Love falls too neatly into that now dreaded “indie” category. This is unfair for a band with this much vision.

Other Lives could be deemed a more down-to-earth version of Fleet Foxes, but that’s not fair either. That being said, it’s hard to stand out when each song on your new record has the same woodsy atmosphere. Sure, having a distinct identifier of your sound is a good thing, but mixing it up over the course of 10 songs is essential. The fact that the band engineered and produced For Their Love on their own is consistently made clear. As much as one should praise the singular voice in a piece of art, Other Lives could’ve used an outside ear or two.

Still, there are no bad songs here. Some fans might even be thrilled with the more consistent approach. For Their Love often feels like the more meticulously produced sibling to Tamer Animals, both to its credit and discredit. There’s not a lot of staying power on this record, but at least it’s well done. “We really set out to make a band record,” said Tabish of the process. Other Lives have accomplished just that.