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If two young lovers went to an Arcade Fire concert in 2006 and consummated the night to Alt-J’s An Awesome Wave, their kids would come out sounding like Other Lives. When you see Jonathon Mooney echo a melody on the trumpet while tapping a rhythm on his vibes below, or Josh Onstott slamming a timpani with one hand while strumming a guitar with the other, it becomes clear that this five-piece band is doing the work of fifteen.
It was a beautiful Friday night in Williamsburg. While folks gathered across the river to catch the half-sun Manhattanhenge, we were filing into Music Hall of Williamsburg in the fading light of a long summer day that just wanted to stick around. Realizing the room is cookie-cutter to Bowery Ballroom (except the gender-mirrored bathrooms, which must confuse drunk NYC music enthusiasts all the time), I spent approximately no time exploring and all of my time ogling the massive footprint of OL’s gear. The band members barricade behind pinch-hitter instruments like vibes, timpani, and a gorgeous harmonium, in addition to the meat and potatoes of a full drum kit and various guitars littered around the stage. When it’s worth bringing a banjo for one song, you know this is a band with a plan.
That was my favorite part of their live show, something that now translates into their records for me, but didn’t before seeing them in person; their arrangements are exquisite. I’d imagine they weave melodies the way Leonard Cohen writes lyrics, one carefully plucked word at a time. Songs like “Landforms” with its pulsating swell and “2 Pyramids” from the touring record Rituals felt like opening up a clock and watching the intricacies. There is a visceral connection to the music when you can actually see each band member pick up a third instrument in as many minutes. The songs were artful and deliberate in a way that may not have left much room for spontaneity, but more than made up for it with genuine craftsmanship.