Other Lives is not a band I listen to for lyrics, which says a lot, considering I’m a Word Girl. Thus, in a year when I felt more inward, more silent, it makes sense that their album Rituals filled that silence with its own quiet movement. I saw them twice last year, once at the free concerts at the Mural, but once, more importantly, at Neumo’s on a Tuesday night, by myself. In her review of Rituals, their second album, music critic Kelsey Simpkins describes going to an Other Lives show as such: “The music rolled through our bodies, beat our hearts for us.” After the first third of the year, the survival of a break-up, the sadness of deep loneliness, Other Lives ushered me into a different room in the house of myself and beat my heart for me, asking me only to be there.
Come live on in silence,
Everything’s standing out like a loss and feels like I’ve been
I won’t fear my babbles
leave them in the silence
I live in the present
moment to moment
“Reconfiguration” is a ghost call of a song, taking part of its power from one member of the band doing a strange imitation of what seems like a child playing “Indian,” fluttering his hand over his voice to make a sound both eerie and owl-like. The album itself was a reconfiguration for me: of loneliness into, for a time, merely solitude. Emily Dickinson famously says “One need not be a chamber to be haunted,” but for much of the spring and summer, I was only a chamber, a space I was uncertain how to fill. I was, finally, unhaunted, true: mostly busy with work, focused on writing, coming to terms with the dark angers of the winter. I returned to my writing, talking more and more to myself, writing so much that, at times, I felt I’d replaced actual intimacy with these revisitings of my own losses, the babbles of my own heart. Simpkins also describes the album as “a series of smaller, detailed listening experiences,” and each essay I wrote seemed, to me, like a tiny desk concert, a pleasure best experienced alone.
Moreover, Other Lives is the kind of show you can go to see by yourself and never feel alone. Usually, when a band plays for its audience, for me, there are these moments of feeling more, not less, separate from them: they talk to the audience and make jokes; the audience laughs, and the people around you nudge each other knowingly or comment on what’s just been said. In contrast, it doesn’t seem to me that Other Lives plays for the audience, really—they play for themselves, for each other. Attention isn’t called to the fact that you have no one to nudge, no one with whom to comment, because attention stays on the music, orchestral, multi-layered, unfolding before you like a thunderstorm coming across the empty Oklahoman plains from which the band itself comes, and the only thing to do is smell the ozone in the air and close your eyes as the first warm drops hit your upturned face, softly at first, until your skin gives over and becomes part of what the rain comes to fill.
I’ve always felt like that—like their music is a coming storm; I was unsurprised, then, to find the image used by Simpkins:
Like dynamic paint strokes, intimate choreography, and electrifying storms, Rituals evokes the aesthetic experience of life itself in its finest moments. The opening track, “Fair Weather,” is the like the gathering of a rainstorm from a long time coming. And Rituals is that rainstorm: spilling its long-accumulated contents on us in a deluge. [ . . . T]here is a sound of uprooting, of displacement in Rituals, both physical and mental; an unsettling feeling of change since the release of Tamer Animals, and an attempt to redefine oneself anew.
Perhaps, as a former Kansan, I still feel that displacement, understand how the “attempt to redefine oneself anew” will always recall not just the meek and constant rain of the Northwest but the electrical anticipation of the thunderstorms of the Midwest. Perhaps that is why it was such a surprise to find myself beginning to settle into the solitude, and why I still fight against that feeling, at times. Change, for me, has always been charged—coming from a place I did not love, looking for things I could not find easily, I have long been unfamiliar with the feeling of life simply moving on. More often, I have placed myself in the way of the deluge, daring myself to be uprooted: leaving for Missouri, returning to Seattle, accepting the spontaneous moment, inviting others to do so, in return, turning over the unturned stones to see if glass hearts were buried underneath, throwing my own glass heart at hard surfaces to see how strong it is, to find out what it means, exactly, when glass breaks.
Yet last year was a year in which change did not have charge. Spring quarter came and went; summer began. I wrote in spring. I read in spring. I read what my students wrote in spring, and in summer, I wrote and read what I wrote, again and again, trying to figure out not how to change my life next but how to reorganize what has happened in it, trying to find an order for the book project. I saw Other Lives again, at the Mural, on a lawn with a hundred other people and my friend Leah. But still, I loved them more that time I saw them alone, when I was simply in the process of living. “In their element,” Simpkins says, “[lead singer Jessie] Tabbish’s lyrics come effortlessly, like in a dream, and the sounds feel like they’ve always existed.”
And that is why their song “Patterns” is my favorite song on the album. Although I did not know the lyrics until I began researching for this essay, it is as if I had understood all along, had heard the ironic tension in the song between immersion in the moments of the present and the realization that one is repeating, again, those same moments which have led your heart astray before, experiencing as new those emotional changes in tempo and dynamic, which are, in fact, not changes at all:
Put yourself first, and feel yourself, and then
I wander in sleep, in a silent tone.
Put yourself far, and feel yourself in mine,
I’m wandering still, falling in love so far
Into your arms, into the void
Oh I should have known.
Oh I should have known better.
But the musical patterns in the song itself are so lovely, so lacey, so intricate, shimmering starlight across the deeper wells of an ocean, that you don’t experience the repetition as such—much as I’d begun to find the return of the same placid day less of a disappointment because it brought no change. Simpkins quotes Tabbish, saying Rituals “‘was about the spontaneity of travel and being isolated. For the first times in our lives we were moving off on our own away from our families and kind of coming into our own.’” For me, Rituals played on repeat-all in my chamber as I moved constantly while standing still, as I moved away from one version of loneliness to be, more firmly, in the same place. Or so it seemed.
But remember—there I was: simply letting their music beat my heart for me, standing alone near the stage, closing my eyes and letting the music itself be what I felt, while lyrics like this were sung to me, whispering into me like the temperature of the rain which you notice, primarily, for its pressure:
The more that you give,
the less that you fear
the less that you fear
“The vision of Rituals,” Simpkins’ review ends, “needs the time to communicate its story.” Perhaps my own vision does, too—time to be lonely, alone, silent, while the patterns emerge and change me, rain on the sand.