19 Oct, 2012

Other Lives: Not Just Another OK Act

Very few bands could truthfully say that they were hand-picked by Thom Yorke and Co. to open for their legendary band at a sold out show in a giant venue. Even fewer could express that Radiohead’s (in)famous linchpin remixed one of their tracks. Other Lives, a 5-piece alt-folk-rock act from Stillwater, Oklahoma are one of these elite few, and for good reason.

A close friend of mine attended the aforementioned Radiohead show at the 1st Bank Center on March 13th of last year, and when he returned he wasn’t only gushing about how he was actually in the same room as Jonny Greenwood, but how absolutely stellar their opener was. I was intrigued, and he introduced me to a few tracks off an album called Tamer Animals. I was impressed. I liked it a lot. I promptly (and stupidly) forgot about it a few days later.

Seven months later, I saw a semi-familiar name pop up on the Fox’s concert list. I wasted no time in applying to cover the show. And boy, am I happy with my subconscious for looking out for me on that one.

I am very into one-man projects, and I am also very into foreign dudes who somehow miraculously establish repertoires in the U.S. Funny-looking names are always a plus, too. Therefore, Other Lives’ opener was an absolute delight for me. Indians is the moniker of Søren Løkke Juul (I told you his name was ridiculously badass), a timid-faced lad hailing from Copenhagen, Denmark. To be honest, I could have told you he was European by the way he was dressed. He, to be frank, had that shit on lock.

Indians

Indians

Søren crooning.

Søren crooning.

Nobody can rock a pair of boots like a Dane.

Nobody can rock a pair of boots like a Dane.

His tunes are primarily soft, twinkling ballads that combine bedroom-engineered pop and the occasional acoustic guitar riff that recalls a Kristian Mattson-esque cadence – check out “Cakelakers”. He was principally anchored by his synthesizer, but broke out his trusty guitar on a few tracks. His sweet, pure voice soared confidently across the audience (some captivated, some milling about) and his music filled the Fox by way of bubbly waves of melodic piano sparkles and surprisingly heavy bass vibrations. If I were put on the spot to classify him as a musician, I would most likely invent a genre, as I usually do: Chillwave-Singer-Songwriter-Folk-Pop. Yeah, I’m that concise.

The Tallest Man...in Copenhagen

The Tallest Man…in Copenhagen.

Søren

Søren

To say Søren is “DIY” would be a hilarious understatement as I’m certain his music unexpectedly evolved from a passionate hobby to an international touring prospect. He was signed to independent record label 4AD on September 7th, which boasts other high-profile acts such as St. Vincent, Beirut, Deerhunter, and Bon Iver as well as up-and-coming artists who have only recently gained mainstream credibility like Twin Shadow, Grimes, and Purity Ring. If Indians were to gain any widespread notoriety (which I think he deserves), 4AD is arguably the perfect break. His stage presence was humble and grateful, often thanking the crowd for the opportunity to play his music. That kind of modesty can sometimes be interpreted as gimmicky, but I assure you, it was entirely our pleasure.

Something that immediately struck me before Other Lives even began to play was the brilliantly minimalist set design in which they aptly utilized to their advantage. Giant light bulbs strapped to microphone stands were set up around the stage, a few here, a few there; they accentuated each member’s station but didn’t detract from their playing. For the kind of music Other Lives makes, an overbearing or epically complicated stage design would have made the live performance convoluted, but their choice contributed a harmonious balance of dramatics and simplicity. The bright flickering of yellow lights was magnificent, but not distracting. Right away I knew I was about to witness a band that knew what they were doing. Which, trust me, is an enormous relief as a reporter (and music lover).

The first song of the set was–quite appropriately–the opener of Tamer Animals; “Dark Horse” is a dynamic presentation of vocals, string and piano countermelodies, and drums that positively tied everything together with a golden ribbon of harmony. They followed this, again in succession with the album sequence, with “As I Lay My Head Down,” a track emphasizing the ebb and flow of lead vocalist Jesse Tabish’s singing in time with the backing vocals and string accompaniments of multi-instrumentalist Jenny Hsu (who played cello and piano throughout the performance) and the rest of the band. Everything was flawlessly in sync. And these were only the first two songs. Damn.

Other Lives' frontman Jesse Tabish

Other Lives’ frontman Jesse Tabish.

Multi-instrumentalist Jenny Hsu on cello

Multi-instrumentalist Jenny Hsu on cello.

A taste of the set design.

A taste of the set design.

For me, Other Lives’ sound could be likened to a menagerie of great artists on the Alt and Folk scenes these days. At times it feels like Tabish’s vocals and lyrics paired with the dark instrumentation backing them are reminiscent of The National. Yet on more acoustic guitar and string-focused folk jams, I’m reminded of Mumford and Sons. Yet there’s something unique about the atmosphere Other Lives possesses, on their records and on the stage. Therein lies why exactly they’re a good excellent band: they are able to use elements perfected by other notable bands in the genre(s), yet their music is largely composed with genuine originality and relies on the dynamic equilibrium of each member. Of course this attribute could be applied to most bands that are considered worthwhile, but I will always rave about artists that depend on actual musicality in place of buzz, indie cred, or eye-grabbing absurdity. Honestly, I’m not as vapid as you may think.
Other Lives' Jon Mooney on piano.

Other Lives’ Jon Mooney on piano.

Hsu on vocals and piano.

Hsu on vocals and piano.

Highlights of the set included (but were not limited to): the spaghetti-western suggestive vibe of “Old Statues” which featured a country-folkish guitar progression paired with trotting drums and escalating vocals that were absolutely integral to its epic-ness. Their performance of “Desert” built slowly, the cacophonous notes giving way to arching melodies and thundering percussion near the end. “For 12,” with its acoustic-driven intro dissolving to expose distorted guitar countermelodies and heavy accents on the synth, piano and cello arrangements, was more than memorable, and their live interpretation of Tamer Animals’ title track was a near spiritual experience; an indicative glockenspiel intro lead into a heartrending amalgam of iridescent piano arpeggios, choral backing vocals, and giant echoing drums. Perhaps the most arresting spectacle of “Tamer Animals” was the smoky, convincingly somber vocals provided by Tabish, like a hawk overlooking the scene with a detached sense of melancholy. It was inexplicably compelling, and it was truly beautiful.
Tabish playing "E Minor" solo as the first encore piece.

Tabish playing “E Minor” solo as the first encore piece.

Hsu on violin.

Hsu on violin.

Josh Onstott on back-up vocals and percussion.

Josh Onstott on back-up vocals and percussion.

It’s difficult to describe the bond I have with music when I connect with it on multiple levels of ethos and pathos. But damn it, it’s powerful. And I wouldn’t be writing this glowing review if I didn’t really feel it. I encourage you to not only check out Other Lives. Buy their album(s). Go see them perform. But most importantly, be sure to have open ears not only for them, but the Other acts that are founded by serious musicians.

Until next time, happy listening, friends.

Photos and review by Sig Steiger. Show on 10/19/12.

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