Icy, overcast, lush, and melancholic are not words that are often used when one considers the largely agricultural state of Oklahoma, but Stillwater-based indie rockers Other Lives must live in an alternate universe version of South Central America, because their evocative blend of heady Baroque pop and brooding, windswept, electro-alt-rock invokes not the frontier, but the White Cliffs of Dover. Like English mood casters Alt-J and Radiohead (the band served as the opening act on the latter's King of Limbs tour in 2012), Other Lives specialize in widescreen cinematic pop. Their third studio long-player is as seductive as it is tense, offering up layer upon layer of sweeping strings, arpeggiated electronic vistas, and ghostly harmonies, all of which frame lyrics that dance with furtive feet around the concepts of technology-induced dystopia and existential dread. On their first two outings, the band flirted with the mainstream, but Rituals dives right in (with help from co-producer and Atoms for Peace drummer Joey Waronker), offering up plenty of shimmery, meticulously crafted moments of pure pop bliss that crackle and pop in all the right places. However, all of the fancy window dressing can't hide the fact that standout cuts like the soulful "Fair Weather," the hypnotic "Need a Line" and "Beat Primal," and the Morricone-tinged "Easy Way Out" are rooted in darkness. Even at its most sumptuous (the blustery, near Gothic-sounding "No Trouble" feels like an Edward Scissorhands-era Danny Elfman production), Rituals oozes dread, but ultimately it's that contrast between finery and paranoia that makes it so vital.
(Digital Download - Pias #PIASL150CD)
Review by James Christopher Monger