The Life and Times
Since The Life and Times formed, oh, roughly 1,825 days ago and began disarming audiences and critics with unbelievably loud yet relentlessly beautiful music, the main constant for the band has been how uncategorizable they’ve remained. Sure, they’re a “rock band”, but one that skirts the boundaries of this word in each song, tipping their collective cap to the giants that loom in each melody.
Yes, they’re still moody, spacey, sonically overwhelming, symphonic and always grandiose. But threading these traits together is the same obsessive attention to detail from singer Allen Epley, drummer Chris Metcalf and bassist Eric Abert that was the calling card of Suburban Hymns (DeSoto) and each subsequent release. The music made for their 2nd full length release Tragic Boogie (Arena Rock) reflects a process that’s even more detail-obsessed than earlier efforts.
Quoth Allen Epley (gtr/vocs/etc), “We wanted to make the kind of record that a big-name band with a lot of money might make, except we don’t have any money. But we said what the hell and decided to do it anyway by going in debt and built our own studio and recorded it in my basement”. The result is a record with layered intricacies that rewards repeated listenings. It’s also one that heavily scratches that rock itch, ahem, but doesn’t drown you in Gee Whiz Factor bullshit.
The time granted by recording without being under the pro-studio-money clock was liberating. Some songs were recorded multiple times, trying different tempos and nuances. Songs like the title track ‘Tragic Boogie’ reflect an ethos of what they call “pre-post-production”, where the idea is to try to “anticipate how we might manipulate the song in post on pro-tools, and then actually perform it that way as we were recording it, and not rely on post to create the effect”. After recording , the bulk of tunes were mixed by Jason Livermore (Rise Against, Shiner) at The Blasting Room with the band and their fine-tooth combs in hand.
And though they have made a record for the ages, the live show is the proof. Blisteringly loud, unbelievably lush and brilliantly lit with white light, the sound created by these 3 gentlemen belies their numbers. The muscular 26” kickdrum thump of songs like ‘Fall of the Angry Clowns’ is not just heard live but felt in the belly. ‘Let It Eat’ recalls Blonde Redhead in 5th gear at 125mph, anchored by Eric Aberts’ headbob-inducing bassline by the time we reach the chorus.
Where ‘07s The Magician EP (StiffSlack) echoed slivers of Floyd, My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive, Tragic Boogie finds them wearing multiple masks within one song, or even one verse. The majesty of ‘Que Sera Sera’ reflects an ethos of grandiosity of The Flaming Lips, while songs like ‘Old Souls’ and ‘Catching Crumbs’ owe a debt of gratitude to Doves and Interpol. And an instrumental with a name like ‘Pain Don’t Hurt’ is proof that, while they are moody and melancholy, they refuse to take themselves too seriously.
Tragic Boogie, like the best albums made with unending attention to detail and looking to scale grand heights, never gets bogged down by the frippery. What really hits the listener are 12 foundation-changing rock songs that have been woven together with love and that slippery agent, time.