There’s no point in trying to unearth an obvious “single” in Other Lives’ second album, Tamer Animals. Here’s a better idea instead: succumb. Let every last song wash over you like proper long players once did, from the swift strings and pulsating horns—a technique learned from old Philip Glass LPs—of “Dark Horse” to the richly orchestrated denouement of “Heading East,” a cut that could have been cribbed from the early instrumental sessions of Other Lives’ old band Kunek.
“The core of that band is still with me,” says frontman Jesse Tabish, who founded Kunek with cellist Jenny Hsu and drummer Colby Owens. “In a lot of ways, it’s still what I gravitate towards, songwriting wise.”
Unlike their self-titled debut—a studio-bound effort that was produced by Beck’s longtime drummer, Joey Waronker—Tamer Animals was tracked in the privacy of the band’s own space in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Waronker eventually mixed the entire affair and sanded down its edges, but it took Other Lives 14 months to get to that point.
We’re not talking about lazy Sunday sessions here, either. More like 11 songs that were carefully sculpted over time, with certain sounds creeping up when the record called for them, and nothing that’s forced or rushed.
“Every sound has a purpose without being too indulgent,” explains Tabish. “There’s nothing like, ‘Hey, let’s rock out on this!’ It’s homemade in a way. For better or for worse, it’s all our sound.”
That sound amounts to one hell of a sweeping listen—an atmosphere, a mood, a state of mind. So while you might find yourself going back to the minor-key melodies of “Dust Bowl III” or the Morricone-caliber arrangements of “Old Statues” more often than not, it’s all part of a greater whole. And since Tabish prefers treating his vocals like an instrument, the lyrics are left open to interpretation.
To be honest, they don’t even matter in the end. What matters is how Tamer Animals makes you feel; how it aims to hit you in the chest…hard, like the Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Sigur Rós LPs that made Tabish want to write this kind of music in the first place. (If you can believe it, he played in punk bands as a kid and didn’t resume the piano lessons he started in third grade until he was 18.)
“I’d rather us be an ensemble than a rock band,” he says. “That’s my goal—to get away from those traditional ideas. It’s not a strength in numbers kinda thing, either, where 12 people are on stage and five of them are playing the same melody. When the music calls for that many players, we’ll go there. We’ll destroy the band itself.”
He’s smiling as he says that. And frankly, so are we.