Following a relocation to Portland and reducing their number from four to three, Other Lives follow up their 2011 album Tamer Animals with a record that sees them take their textured lush cinematic arrangements to the next level. One of the criticisms of their previous work was that sometimes the vocals didn’t quite match up to the soaring arrangements of the tracks, something the band have paid obvious attention to. They have definitely improved, with layered voices sounding almost like another instrument at times, in the way that erstwhile tour mates Bon Iver and Radiohead have utilised vocals to add another texture to a track. You can’t always make out the lyrics, but you can hear the big bold melodies, sitting in seamlessly with the rest of the music and standing out in front of when needed also. They waste no time in getting to work with opening track ‘Fair Weather’ a tour de force displaying layered vocals, piano and beats, while ‘Pattern’ and ‘Reconfiguration’ see the band continue to transpose their dynamic orchestral pop into an electronic space.
The swirling vocals are clearer by third track ‘Reconfiguration’, pairing back the arrangements to leave a song which has the singer “living in the past, moment to moment” feeling like he is “all messed up”. It has a nice groove and bounce to it, with the vocal stretching the one word reconfiguration to fit the chorus and was a good choice by the band to put out this as the first single as it acts as a bridge between their previous output and their new output.
‘2 Pyramids’ is sweeping, polished and upbeat, concerning itself with the conflict between primal and rational. Inspired by a Joseph Campbell book about the human need for the belief in something beyond the self, it’s a grand statement and one of the standout tracks on the album which demands repeated listening. ‘English Summer’ is another highlight, recalling the Pet Sounds era Beach Boys at their harmonic best on a chorus that lifts the second half of the album.
At 14 tracks there is a lot to get through and, with most of the songs clocking in at around the four minute mark, it might be a little bit too much work for some. In this case persistence pays off. The band have taken all of the good bits from their previous albums, married it with some electronic elements and have assembled a collection of songs of varied styles, but unmistakably them. They may have moved away somewhat from the Americana stylings of previous albums but they continue to put their own unique multi-instrumental orchestral chamber pop stamp on music. And we are all the better for it.