Whoever is in charge at the White House and to what end, there’s something about the vastness of America – geographically, socially and culturally – which always makes wanderers pause for thought; capturing the essence of these vistas has fascinated many, from Whitman to Dylan and beyond, yet even to outsiders only temporarily on its soil, it’s a country that keeps its secrets ferociously.
Other Lives songwriter Jesse Tabish recently moved from bohemian Portland with his wife to a rustic, A-frame house in the rural Cooper Mountain region of Oregon, in the process clearing his mind and restocking it, the results being what would ultimately become For Their Love.
Having experimented with electronic treatments on their last release, 2015’s Rituals, the trio of multi instrumentalists – Jonathon Mooney, Josh Onstott and Tabish – chose to rely on themselves as musicians again, wishing no sleight of hand to distract the listener this time round.
The reward for their labours is a record with poise and beauty, its themes – the evaporation of the American dream; the conflicts between the individual, society and the state; hope as a fundamental way of life – are weighty topics, easy to deliver as sermons. They also come with strings attached: each as a relatable narrative is one thing, but lifting their weight and making them engaging is quite another. In approach there is more than a breath of The National here, but songs like Hey Hey I – about, ‘the paradigm of the working class’ – is, modestly yes, full of the nation’s soul, Tabish’s wife Kim adding harmonies, the poverty of the subject matter forgotten.
This dichotomy, starkness of experience against a romantic, austere backdrop brings to mind some of the country’s mavericks (Glen Campbell, Scott Walker) and peppers For Their Love from the string-laden opener Sound Of Violence’s ornately peeling grandeur to the bare bones piano of Dead Language, and the rolling paranoia of Nites Out.
Some of these stories, however, are more than just character sketches about those falling through cracks we can’t even see. Tabish was a founder member of the All American Rejects, and the spaghetti western panorama of We Wait – arguably the album’s peak – partly disguises the post-traumatic effects of losing one of his closest friends at seventeen, allegedly murdered by one of the band’s inner circle.
Even when the teller of the tale isn’t so close to the surface, this remains a work entirely satisfied by a growing feeling of detachment from an illusory world. Lost Day mourns the death of the intellectual at the hands of the fundamentalist, while Who’s Gonna Love Us resurrects the guilt of panicking about who will stop to care for us when we’ve given all that we can give to everyone else.
We end though with hope, the easiest thing to lose in America (or anywhere else), the economically played slide guitar of Sideways taking us back to the grass, sun and warmth that that should be enough to sustain us all as humans.
The end of a journey which began under the same sky for us all, Other Lives have made For Their Love a definitive statement about the power of belief, whichever square inch of dirt you happen to be standing on.