Album Review: Other Lives – Tamer Animals

[TBD Records; 2011]

There is a dark ambience filtered throughout Other Lives’ latest release, Tamer Animals, that remains constant throughout. This is a band with a clear passion for sombre melodies that incite sorrowful moods, and rarely does the album retreat from this state. To call it ‘folk for the apocalyptic age’ may be too strong, but this isn’t the sort of folk music to sing along with; it is preferable to listen to it whilst wearing a cloak at a Medieval fair… and it should be raining.

To examine the music reveals a lot of moody, tense atmospheres, and quite a lot of variety in sound. “For 12” opens as one might imagine a Sigur Rós track to, with grandiose guitars and violins swelling, rising and falling. “Tamer Animals” is a piano-led track with some complex drum fills and subdued, detached vocals. Jesse Tabish’s voice services the music well, and reminds one of Paul Banks of Interpol in his often droll and terse delivery. They’re not the sort of vocals that one would write home about, but conversely one would scarcely wish for them to be changed. The often slow delivery of lyrics matches the pacing of the album, with songs taking a while to drift by with a rather relaxing, if at times underwhelming consistency. Thankfully, tracks such as “Dust Bowl III” and “Desert,” although appearing to be rather simple at first, break down into faster rhythms after competent builds, ensuring that the listener rarely knows what is coming next.

It’s not all roses, however. Other Lives sound good when they’re playing their own music – the originality and quirkiness of the fey “Woodwind” sounds both pleasant and wholly otherworldly – but at times they sound a little too similar to other groups and come out sounding less than the sum of their parts. The five-piece engage in some Fleet Foxes-styled harmonies on “Weather,” but they lack the pastoral elegance of Robin Pecknold and his bushy crew, resulting in the song sounding flat. “Heading East” is an instrumental that sounds like an interlude off of Eluvium’s Copia, although lacking the density and scope of that artist. Call it a lack of studio polish and production if you will, but the band sometimes seem to struggle to entirely deliver the cinematic sound that they hope to capture, even if they sound pleasant in the process.

But honestly, bar a few tracks that outstay their welcome, there is a lot to love about this album. As folk music goes, these guys have a nice original sound for the most part, with a heavy dedication to violins and cellos that don’t just compliment the music; they allow it to flourish, as can be seen when carefully listening to “Landforms,” which is so lovingly crafted that it’s impossible not to appreciate. This same sentiment extends to the entire album, which has clearly been written, worked on and mastered with a great deal of passion. Combining Tamer Animals with the new releases by Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, Marissa Nadler and Release the Sunbird, all of which are great folk-artists with rather different sounds, this, my friends, is a good year for folk music.