Anytime one of your favorite bands calls it a day there is hope and fear for the future. Some groups are greater than the sum of the collective parts. If this is the case, all of the members’ future musical endeavors seem to chase the proverbial rock and roll dragon. This usually results in waning interest and general discontent over time. I’m delighted to say that Allen Epley’s (vocals/guitar) transition from Shiner to The Life And Times bears none of these burdens.
The Life And Times -- TLAT as an acronym -- began to take shape in 2002 as a Midwest indie rock supergroup (featuring ex-members of Someday I and The String And Return). This lineup didn’t last very long, but did manage to release an EP, The Flat End of the Earth. My sinking suspicion is that having two singer/songwriters potentially prolonged this group from finding a sonic common ground. The current lineup was culled one-by-one as their predecessors left the band. In 2004, the current trio was in place and began recording their first LP before year's end. Since 2005, TLAT has released a split EP, an EP, a seven-inch single and three LP’s. Their most recent album, No One Loves You Like I Do (SlimStyle Records), was released on January 17th, 2012.
Twelve days in ten songs is an awkward entrance to a record. An album with no standard song title is a bit intriguing upon first gaze. I decided to listen to these songs in the order of the days and not the sequence on the album. I took the bait of an empty hook just shining back at me.
Day One – “Someday soon you will love me. Someday soon you will need me.”
One begins with the gritty, driving bass and drums I remember from Allen’s days in Shiner. When the vocals appear they start to expose the calm determination of this song’s subject. The narrator’s drive seems to drift from enthusiasm or confidence to obsession, while intensity seems to envelop the ending of the track.
Day Two – “No one can see me now. No one fears me.”
Two begins solemnly, but quickly jarred into motion by Eric Abert (bass) and Chris Metcalf (drums). What begins as a soundscape is converted into a rhythmic panzer division to contrast the dreamy vocals that are a pitiful self-realization of the narrator’s insignificance, or his underlying madness.
Day Three – “That’s the way it’s always been.”
No One Loves You Like I Do deals with where we draw our lines as civilized beings. The songs touch upon the ideas of love/obsession, security/hostage, teaching/brainwashing and perceived/actual. Three is proclamation of disdain for the status quo and a desire to “Let it burn."
Day Four –
The fourth day is an absentee. TLAT has evolved much in their past 10 years as a band. Their beginnings were a natural progression from the epic and grimy mathy-ness of Shiner. TLAT still bear Allen’s hallmark melodies (and harmonies), but have really been adventurous with their overall sonic style. Suburban Hymns culled from the sonic halls of Shiner as well as an equal portion of shoegaze reverence. Their last full length, Tragic Boogie, seemed to indulge more in the slower tempo heavy songs. The luxury of recording at home afforded TLAT time to spend on many effects and sonic layers. Keyboards have always been a part of TLAT’s sound but they seem to have found a good balance of studio accents to recreate able instrumentation on No One Loves You Like I Do.
Day Five – “I love you forever. I’ll keep you forever.”
The narrator has a gentle tone that seems to be very persuasive and charismatic and seems to draw his target in and slowly change extricate her from her current life. The recording is very stark and simple; it opens with a barely audible click-track and a Fender Rhodes. Eric and Allen recorded this track in their home studio. Since their move to Chicago the two have been recording and producing quite a few bands at their Electronical Studio space.
Day Six – “I’ll lock the door and eat the key. I’m the one, be good to me.”
Reprimand and programming appear in tandem in this song. The narrator is, in essence, lecturing his “pupil." Here, control is manipulated through emotion.
Day Seven –
The seventh day is also an absentee. TLAT can at points sound like space rock anthemists, sad balladeers, late 80’s shoegaze psychedelic drone or a driving hard rock band. This inability to stylistically pigeonhole the sound is what makes it so unique and consistently inviting. No One Loves You Like I Do is the first lyrically conceptual record for TLAT. It has Jekyll/Hyde moments of tender affection into anger and control. It may be a sonic insight into a manic/depressive’s thoughts. It could be a document of domestic abuse or only a document of things imagined. Allen takes us on a lyrical journey that most fans of TLAT were probably not looking for.
Day Eight – “Everything changes, no hints or warnings.”
Sadness resurfaces on day eight. Has our narrator lost his possession? Has he lost control of her? Has he lost control of himself? This track slowly builds from a somber acoustic ballad into a static-filled wall of sound. I think I even hear Eric’s Moog keyboard that was featured fairly prominently on Suburban Hymns.
Day Nine – “Put away your makeup now baby. Baby, let those bruises show there’s no shame there.”
The manic nature of our narrator has re-emerged on day nine. It feels as though he is grasping at all possibilities to remake or rebuild what he had begun to craft. He is attempting to mend the “problem.” Did she stray from him? Physically Emotionally?
Day Ten – “I’m the servant and the master all in one.”
The tone and structure of this song echo the sound of Failure’s “The Nurse Who Loved Me”. A beautiful and serene opening that grows into a massive distorted beast that begins to disintegrate under it’s own weight. The song manages to right itself and end just as quietly as it began. The narrator wants to spell out his plan to the object of his obsession. He is conveying his truth because he feels she is too weak to act upon this information. He knows she will stay because he is the only one who cares for her.
Day Eleven – “There is nothing I won’t do to prove all of my love for you.”
Metcalf delivers a truly animalistic drum performance to open this song. Allen croons about potential scenarios and how his love would react to these terrible happenings. He is questioning her dedication while truly proclaiming his. TLAT turn the ending into a brutal Sabbath-inspired sludge-fest.
Day Twelve – “I can’t get you out of my head.”
Not unlike a 12-step program for addiction, our narrator makes a realization. On day twelve he begins by proclaiming, “don’t let me in.” He realizes his affection is untrue and magnificent. He is stuck with this truth and knows that this should never be/have been. Was this a real journey or was this entire an internalized hallucination? We are not told, but the journey itself was visceral either way.
The album, recorded at Matt Talbot’s Earth Analog studio in Tolono, IL, was mainly recorded in January 2011 in the same studio where Shiner recorded The Egg almost exactly 10 years prior.
Reviewer's Note: As I was writing this review I saw a twitterverse overshare by Josh Newton of Shiner that predicted the (limited) return of Shiner and the release of their epic swan song The Egg on vinyl. Good things come to those who wait…I’ve been waiting a decade.
The Life And Times new record is out now on SlimStyle Records and they play The Firebird in St Louis on Saturday, January 28, 2012 with openers Echo Bravo and False Moves. A $10 cover gets you in the door.