Oklahoma-based Other Lives plays dense, clamorous music, characterized by massive instrumentation and vigorous dynamic shifts. On record, this manifests as loud and folk-pointed, with twinges of post-rock. Tamer Animals is a bold and vibrant album, but live, the productions take flight. With a small army of instruments and a great mix, Other Lives is able to reproduce the lush orchestrations in person. This is a band that sounds like a studio production.
Last night, the five musicians were always moving between the truckload of instruments: two violins, a cello, kettle drums, two electric guitars, an acoustic guitar, a trumpet, castanets, sleigh bells, a harmonica, electric bass, two types of metallophone, a sort of miniature harmonium, at least three keyboards and synths, and a guest horn section on the finale—all drenched in various reverbs and backing harmonies. “Folky” doesn’t really describe the sound adequately—though the band plays songs with intimate structures and lyrics, most of the force is generated from the sheer volume of the sound and the total optimization of the sonic spectrum. The group’s clever sound-activated light fixtures illuminated the stage when the songs boiled over. Nor is the sound exactly baroque—despite the classical instrumentation, Other Lives relies too much on ambience and dynamics, and entirely lacks precocity (and, unfortunately, a sense of humor). At the same time, the band avoids the sort of maniacal catharsis that usually accompanies its type of muscle.
Call Other Lives folkestral. The band takes cues from expansive acts with sprawling live arrangements and Americana heartbeats, copping feels from everyone from Bon Iver to Sigur Rós in the process. It must be a labor of love to drag that symphony across the country. Contrast that to the spare opener Indians, which created vibrant atmospheres by burrowing into its harmonies and reverbs. The Copenhagen-based project is also sorta-folk, but expresses that aesthetic through waves of keyboards and quiet charm. Indians’ melodic, hazy obliques achieved a scaled emotionalism that didn’t aim for melodrama or total control, and primed the audience to get swept in by Other Lives’ technicolor rumble.
For better or worse, the band relies on that rumble. In theory, these songs could be performed with just vocalist Jesse Tabish and a guitar, though it probably wouldn’t sound great—Tabish’s droning voice only works as a counterpoint to the massive sound behind it. Moreover, the band only fully succeeds live—the recorded version of songs like “Dark Horse” are typically ornate pieces of studio indie rock, but the band derives its power from the impractically maximalist sonic arrangements. So stripping down Other Lives for aesthetic or logistic reasons may be a dangerous objective. If you take away the noise, production, and metallophones, I’m scared to see what would be underneath—if anything at all. But what a gorgeous dress.