Otherish show how to reset your musical points of reference – in 13 easy stages.
Release Date: Out now
Label: Self release
Formats: CD, Download, Streaming
This isn’t the first time that we’ve come across Belfast-via-Bristol avant-gardeists, Otherish, in these pages. Just last January we were flabbergasted by the band’s second album, Gone Wrong Rainbow Blues and, now, hot on the trail of that fine effort, comes album#3, the convolutedly-titled How Lucky We Are Being Us and Each Other.
Otherish – their choice of name is absolutely appropriate because their product is definitely other than anything you’ll have ever come across before – are a quartet of multi-instrumentalists: Belfast-born brothers Mark and Paul Bradley, their fellow townsperson Francis Kane and, from Winchester, George Claridge. Their music has attracted comparisons to an array of sources, perhaps, most commonly, The Divine Comedy, although influences as diverse as Nick Drake, Richard Thompson and Steely Dan all get a mention somewhere along the line. And, having given How Lucky We Are Being Us and Each Other a good listen, I’d be tempted to add Trout Mask-era Beefheart, The Bonzos, The Waterboys and Life With The Lions Lennon to that list. But, really, comparisons are fairly futile here; How Lucky We Are Being Us and Each Other is a unique piece of work. Billed as “A dream-pop mini-masterpiece,” it’s not an easy listen, by any means, but it’s an intriguing and immensely rewarding one, and a lesson in how to reset your musical points of reference, given in 13 easy and discrete stages.
Perhaps the poet Andrew Keanie has made the best attempt at classifying this music, so I’ll make no apology for quoting him verbatim:
“The music of Otherish is for beautiful, caustic, charming, confused, fragile, frank, free-ranging, hope-filled, ignorant, naïve panic-stricken, slippery, vain, wily human animals everywhere. Through that lizard-invigilated biosphere that is the habitable zone of Mainstream and Mainstreamish, Otherish continues amphibiously on its journey. With their third album, How Lucky We Are Being Us and Each Other, the band continues paying some sly-yet-loving lip-service to musical normalcy (from Burt Bacharach to Radiohead), but also with plenty of its own tunnelling into left-field and coming up with rhythms that are a little more gristly, melodies that are a little more mulchy, and lyrics a little more likely to lead to what the politer among today’s thought-police might call an ‘alternative attitude’. Might the casually skimming listener be rendered a little more edgy or even radicalised by ‘Dreaming with the Birds’, ‘Alchemy’, ‘Go Xenon’ or ‘If Only’? Who is to say? I’ll try. None of these songs could be classed as a full-frontal attack, but there is still something splendidly dodgy about them. Though there have of course been sexier pistols pointed at the Establishment, Otherish comes through as a more coolly intended provocation, and the more ingenious in its inchmeal undermining of convention. It feels like something – or perhaps a new variant of something – slipping inoffensively and injuriously between the lines of the Establishment narrative, and in a manner quietly and insolently confident of that narrative’s ensuing collapse’.
Wherever you may care to look, How Lucky We Are Being Us And Each Other is unpredictable and entirely innovative. Sure, there’s something for everyone here, but, whatever your taste, you’ll find that it’s served up in a psychedelic, otherworldly and often spookily disturbing form. The a capella choir that kicks off the album with Ribbon of Light is unsettling, the doo-wop of If Only, the album’s lead single, is relentless, spacy and haunting, and the bossa nova of Dreaming With The Birds is hypnotic and, as the song’s title suggests, dreamlike. And Go Xenon! – the most overtly rocky song on the album – spends far more time off-piste than it does on any well-worn track that anyone would recognize.
Elsewhere, Void is a slice of poppy folk that has been given a deranged makeover, whilst the only words I can find that go anywhere close to describing the unhinged Are We There Yet? is to imagine the wild experimentalism of Trout Mask Replica or Lick My Decals Off, Baby, performed in a Belfast accent.
The banjos that introduce I’m Really High are a genuine surprise, but any expectations that we might be in for a burst of bluegrass are promptly dashed as the song morphs into a rush of pure psychedelia, complete with screeching guitars and a driving rhythm, whilst Andrew Keanie’s (him again…) description of The Strange Rain: “…echoic, fantastic, inventive and spacious with layers and textures that are synaptic and tasty” hits the nail right on the head. But, then again, that’s a description that could be applied to most of the stuff that we have here.
If schmaltzy piano balladry is your bag, then the off-kilter Alchemy might just be the song for you. It’s the kind of song that would, in a parallel universe, stun the dinner-suited Talk of the Town crowd into frenzied applause, and anyone in need of comfort and a sound night’s sleep would, in that same universe, benefit from a listen to dystopian lullaby, Wee Sleepy Birdies.
And all that leads us to the album’s closing pair of tracks – perhaps the centrepiece and purpose to the whole affair. Penultimate track, The Good, The Real, The Beautiful, is maybe the album’s most accessible song – but everything is relative on Planet Otherish. A slow, ominous, jazzy rhythm is overlayed by some scorching guitar and the lyrics include, for the first time ever (at least to my knowledge…) the use of the phrase “Clever Clogs” in a published song. And, if you’ve got this far without being amazed, baffled and invigorated, then brace yourself. Fingertip Darkness, the album’s closing epic is the strangest of the strange. A sound collage with snippets of rich melody, it’s the closest thing I’ve ever heard to Revolution 9, albeit with a lot more tuneful bits.
How Lucky We Are Being Us And Each Other is an album like no other. I’ve just used up two pages trying to classify it but, in reality, it’s utterly unclassifiable. I suppose I should leave the final word, once again, to Andrew Keanie. He has a way of articulating this kind of thing:
“The sound as a whole is masterly, mellifluous, mischievous, echoing the insubstantial pageant – our dreamlike, fleeting existence – that would otherwise leave not a rack behind. The layers are so finely woven and rounded with a sleep. It’s magic. In a world that’s obviously unwell, it’s just what the doctor should have ordered (but might not have been allowed to).”
Watch the official video to If Only, the album’s lead single, here: