Other Lives: Josh, Jenny, Jonathan, Jesse, Colby
From Stillwater, OK comes Other Lives, a pet project of monster management company Red Light’s Phil Costello. Their new album was produced by Joey Waronker, to be released by TBD Records.
Soggy with existential despair, their languid tunes haunt as lead singer, Jesse, howls forth the reflection from an inward gaze of longing. You get the feeling he’d go on for hours, floating in an indulgent puddle of morosity, whether or not any other soul could hear his cries. I imagine finding him picking flowers solo in a cemetery or digging for unappreciated treasures of natural beauty beneath the carcass of an overturned hull at the misty shore. Jesse directs the group with a macabre yet elucidating quality akin to Harold from Hal Ashby’s cult classic film, Harold and Maude.
Profundity is the mark of Other Lives. Their songs don’t want to be figured out. They artfully project an entrancing soundscape which makes death alluringly romantic. They are warm and enveloping, like being kicked back in the womb or wrapped in a wool blanket. On the surface, they provide comfortable droning for sad days. Further in, they are hymns of Camus’ Sisyphus.
Dramatically laden with despondency, cello pounds in the heavy theme like a stake to the heart. Even if you don’t listen to the words, you’ll know they’re all about surrender to the cycle of what is, impermanence and pointless existence. It seems the band as a whole has surrendered to the entities of the songs, each one its own boulder to be heaved up, only to roll back to its origin. As a listener, I experience burning friction, a feeling of simultaneous attraction and repulsion, until I, too, surrender to the uncontrollable flow of the music and its full-bodied sonic conveyance of the experience of life. Utterly shoving the epehmeral nature of human existence in your face, the songs halt abruptly. Don’t forget: you’re here for a while, gone in a flash.
Ann Theme opens and swerves in and out of CSNY familiarity, with beautiful harmonies and bright, simple acoustic guitar phrasing. Goodbye to a friend who jumped off a bridge to her death, the skies angelically open momentarily and the song just rolls on until its sudden stop, “…i’d love to say hello…,” begging the questions, What can you do with that? Where do you put that feeling?
Precious Air feels like opening to the 15th page of a novel. Although the setting, characters and storyline have already been defined, there’s a comfortable flow to step into. At the end of the second line, Beatles-influenced background vocals and guitar pick up and then rapidly give way to a haunted house lined with Doors-like tapestries. It’s like this, teetering back and forth between graveyard and Haight-Ashbury until the dark punchline is delivered, “…you’re wasting precious air…” after which point the song becomes awash in an ocean of ascending and descending minor scales, until it just breaks, like a tempestuous sea dissolving to calm.
End of the Year sets out to be upbeat and quirky. You can almost feel a brisk air blowing in as fuscia leaves jangle, “…it’s the end of the year but it’s not too late to start again…” A cold, dark theatrical storm ironically breaks out with the lyrics, “I’ve got sunshine, I’ve got laughter…” but, essentially, it’s assumed, you’re dead or suffering. It’s easy to conclude, in the winter of this song, that everything in life eventually ends up in some sort of shithole. The question, again: What do we make of this?. “December’s gone….”, the seasons turn, the cycle continues. The musical metaphor tabled here is that even when tragedy strikes, the world continues to turn.
Don’t Let Them is a fullblown freedom-of-direction ballad that warns the listener to take charge and resist brainwashing by society.
It Was the Night is the one that really grabs and tortures me – it seems as if Jesse wrote this about my dear friend lost to a heroin overdose in 1995.
Inundated by plump sorrow with a heart cracked open, taking in the tunes, I can finally surrender to the inherent golden lining of the complex masterpieces by Other Lives. They’re the gift of honey freedom that comes from just being in it, whatever it is.
Other Lives on Myspace