Other Lives make the kind of music that’s tailor made for sweeping cinematic epics. Four years ago, their second album, the outstandingly lush Tamer Animals, took the concept of chamber pop and gave it the widescreen effect.
Since the release of that breakthrough, the band have consequentially spent more time on the road as their popularity increased and it seems to be that feeling of continuous travel that looms large over Ritual. It goes without saying that people who like to aimlessly stare out of train windows will find this is the perfect accompaniment for their travels, but really this is a record that should be enjoyed by many and adored by those who have already fallen under their spell.
Ritual tries to add subtle bits of electronica into the mix and they manage to pull it off. Even though it’s thicker in atmosphere and mood, this is a progression that feels natural and allows them to show even more compositional skills. A key factor for this sense of adventure in their sound could well be down, in part anyway, to producer Joey Waronker – in particular, his involvement in Atoms For Peace. It’s as if he encouraged the band to take some of the more beautiful textures from Amok, strip out the overt bleepy-bloopy synthesisers and put their own stamp on them.
The songwriting itself is fraught with tension and apprehension. Ritual is keen on bringing that emotion to the very forefront. Amidst the controlled storm, singer Jesse Tabish repeatedly croons “I should have known,” just shy of crying out for help. In No Trouble, he is determined to stay rooted to the ground even there is a sense of impending doom from the ghoulish backing harmonies and doom-laden strings.
However, the main reason that Ritual is their best to work to date is because of how economical it is. The layering of each song is precise and built to ensure that no element overshadows another. It’s a minor miracle that melodies such as the gorgeous one that underpins No Trouble are drowned in the process. They save their most pensive moment to the very end – a truly hypnotising drawl of a title track. The highlight by a long way is Pattern, one of the more dramatic offerings here; it’s full of parts that are all begging for attention – clattering piano chords, majestic strings, rat-a-tat percussion that veers from hushed to forceful – but as a whole they can somehow make it work. To balance everything so brilliantly is no mean feat at all.
Whatever weak points that Ritual contains are only weak points because they are comparatively non-magical, compared to the stellar highlights. English Summer is a good example of this. It sounds a little bit too conventional (just about) to truly shine but it only adds to the overall dynamism and serves as a nice breather from the record’s more daring side.
With Other Lives, there’s always something interesting and exciting going on in their songs. In one way, Ritual feels like the prelude to something grander and more accomplished, but it’s a mighty fine and impressive one at that. The end result is so dreamy and seductive that one can’t help but be charmed by it.