Monday, June 20, 2011

Up the Massachusetts Turnpike: Other Lives and Alien Landscapes

Tamer AnimalsLast weekend, I had the opportunity to drive up the Massachusetts turnpike on a lonely Saturday morning.  Although Austin is considered the “Hill Country,” and is one of the greener cities in Texas, we just don’t have trees and hills like the ones I saw on that drive.  Fed by the cool, misty air, the trees were tall and incredibly green.  The soundtrack to this drive was Tamer Animals by Other Lives, an unbelievably beautiful recording that has done nothing but impress me, and its lush, symphonic textures drew my eyes to the landscape as it rolled slowly by. Their video for For 12, which I looked up later that evening, eerily captured my slow-motion drive.

Replace the red rocky terrain with gentle green hills and the spaceship with a rental car and you have a pretty good idea of where I was.  Being more accustomed to Austin’s relatively shrubby trees and browning summer grass, I was certainly aware that I was quietly observing a landscape that was not my own.

Recorded music has the capacity to create a world apart from the everyday, but to be believable it also, paradoxically, has to have a feeling of realness.  When a balance is struck between these extremes, it has the potential to expand and enhance the present moment.  Other Lives captures this balance in an unbelievably mature fashion that is both nostalgic and immediate, and I’m not sure the drive would have been the same without them.  While they effortlessly capture the vastness of Sigur Ros and, by association, early Radiohead, I also hear a strong connection with the Moody Blues in their prime, whose ability to merge 60s psychedelia with the orchestral was quite innovative in its day.

Without the groundwork the Moody Blues laid nearly 40 years ago, Tamer Animals would undoubtedly be inconceivable.  Throughout the album, however, Other Lives delves into even deeper orchestral waters than the Moody Blues, recalling the minimalism of Steve Reich and the retro-ambience of Angelo Badalamenti.  In itself, the recording is a feat.  It should, at the very least, win an award for “best use of bassoon on a rock recording.”

The true test of such ambition is, of course, live performance.  To capture their early recordings, the Moody Blues currently perform with a live orchestra as a matter of course, a practice logistically difficult for an independent band on the move.  Regardless, Other Lives seem to take the grandeur of their recording into account, and, at the very least, sketch out its orchestral scope.

They are playing in Austin this Friday, and unfortunately, life commitments will take me away.  Even if my experience with Other Lives ends with Tamer Animals for the time being, though, it will have been worth it.  It’s a stunning, haunting album that asks to be played over and over.

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