Friday, December 12, 2014
Other Lives – “Desert” from Tamer Animals (2011 TBD)


I first heard this band playing loudly through the stereo of a friend of mine, reverberating through the oak walls of his spacious Saint Paul home. I think I interrupted our conversation to find out who it was. Since then, everytime I hear the name Other Lives, I imagine them German, probably due to me conflating them with that film about East Berlin in the 1980s, The Lives of Others

Playing this song on repeat yesterday while I worked, I was struck by the familiarity of the melody, and then it hit me: this song sounds about as much like Love’s “Alone Again Or” as a song can without ripping it off. That’s digging kind of deep, I know, and while I aspire to that level of depth with regards to my musical knowledge, I know the tune because Calexico covers it, and I think it also got played a lot on the oldies station at the Subway sandwich shop I used to work at in high school. Turns out it’s a good tune.

Other Lives are interesting mostly because everything about them is interesting. For instance, how is it that nobody has heard of them when they’re this good? How is it that nobody has heard of them when they toured with Bon Iver and Radiohead? In the end, it’s entirely possible that people have heard of them, and that I’ve been out of touch since some point in the late nineties/early 2000s (this blog probably supports that thesis). How is it that such an interesting band came out of Stillwater, Oklahoma (when I was in high school I had a friend from there, who rotated through quite a number of t-shirts from a place there called Eskimo Joe’s, which I know, as a result, as “Stillwater’s Jumpin’ Little Juke Joint,” and now, upon reflection, as that place in Oklahoma with the kind of racist name)?

Also interesting is the band’s instrumentation. A trio (or so Wikipedia says even though every picture I could find of them indicated that there are five people), the band doesn’t have a drummer, but rather two dudes who sometimes play percussion. Other instruments included in the mix are piano, guitar, violin, trumpet, bass, and keyboards, and the end result is fairly ethereal. This is not a band for sunny days, necessarily, but what they do works quite well for overcast and fog.

“Desert” is no exception. Despite the Love comparison, the music is dark without being overly pessimistic. Dark-ish, let’s say. Really, the lyrics and the music reflect something of a cold acceptance of the fact that maybe the world is burning around you, and that while you maybe didn’t ask for it, there’s not a whole lot you can do about it. This isn’t my everday worldview, per se, but I think we all feel that way from time to time. It could be that the lyrics take this approach to global warming:

The sun will free
Nothing don’t bother me
The rise of the sea
Does not come to stop me when
All of your city lights
Turn your brightest day 
Into sleepless night
And the lives and all
You want to want it all
But it’s not me
It’t not me
It’s not me

Maybe this is to say that, whatever else might happen, desertification, rising sea levels, our speaker has steeled himself against it and is ready for whatever’s coming. Or maybe the lyrics are intentionally just vague enough that people like me prattling on about them on the internet are never going to get it exactly right. I can face that with some cold acceptance.


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