Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
The climate that we're taking in these days is one that doesn't force anyone into imagining poverty. You don't have to feign the feeling or the grip of it. It's right there on your empty plate and it's in that desperate wait until the end of the month or the Friday at the end of every other week. There was a time, when things were going well in this country, for most people, and young writers allowed themselves that magical ride back to the times of the Great Depression and pictured characters as they struggled to keep meat on their bones and the bank from foreclosing on their home, despite going from one day to the next of insufferable, backbreaking labor just to rub a few pennies together. We don't have to drift too far away to get to that place, where everything's a supreme struggle. We're there. We're in the fucking belly of some really bad times. We need not create characters or stretch ourselves to know what it must have been like to live in such an impoverished way -- though we always find ways to buy the new iPhone when it's released and some of us refuse to do without cable television or expensive jeans, when we can't afford them. It's here and Stillwater, Oklahoma, band Other Lives have written an album that deserves to be placed against all of the other great records of the year - for its artistic expression, for its depth, for its timeliness and for its all-important timelessness. "Tamer Animals" is a big beast of an album that feels anthemic for the disenfranchised who just can't seem to catch a break. The songs seem to come from the vantage point of people who aren't asking for much. They'd just like to be able to feed their family, have a decent place to live and maybe have a little left over to stow away from a rainy day, for a broken arm or leg or for a good Christmastime, but it's all getting harder and harder to come by. The folks that Jesse Tabish brings to life are those who find that they're taking the leftovers or the scraps, when they're lucky enough to find them and they've been forced to give up on praying -- it seems -- because faith has become a dirty word. It's as if they've been left down here, to roam and wander, to what, they're not entirely sure. Most of the songs -- and especially the three selections that they chose to include on this, the group's second session with us -- give us the sensation of being thrown out into the middle of a rolling plain where there are no other people, no places to rest your head, no depots for stocking up on provisions and, literally, little to no hope. There are mounting troubles and rising apprehension and there seems to be no valve that could be opened up to let off any pressure. It just keeps building and, while there's a sense of freedom to keep moving, that there's nothing holding these people down, there's also nothing holding them up. Tabish sings about "spouting hymns" and it's as if they're being thrown back up to the skies as curses or barbs, challenges to someone unseen to give them something to believe in again. The general theory is to keep moving toward the west and the sun will be better, the land and life will be more fruitful. Better things and better days will surely be over there, if we can just keep our legs moving a little bit longer, that's where we'll find the wine and the honey, and a garden to plant our vegetables in. We'll have a big backyard for the kids to run around in, chasing the dog that we never had. Tabish sings, "Is there any way to get this weight off my skin/Find another one/Is there anyone get this writing off the wall/Find a new one," the words of someone facing something that is near certainty and is about as hard and as impenetrable as a brick wall.
Other Lives Official Site