Splendid Magazine | by Jennifer Kelly

a serene, thoughtful loveliness

Although not as dramatic as 2003's Everything Is Good Here or as searingly extreme as his work with Swans, Other People has a serene, thoughtful loveliness that builds with every listen. Backed by Akron/Family and recorded almost entirely without percussion, it's wrapped in soft, dreamily acoustic tones that initially obscure the songs' strength. Michael Gira set down a few ground rules before recording these twelve compositions. There would be no long instrumental breaks, very little electrical amplification and no drums. With these boundaries in place -- a constraint on the level of a sonnet's rhyme scheme or an exercise where you write a whole paragraph without using the letter "r" -- he let the songs determine their own shape, both the words and the music describing a specific "other person". So, when opener "Lena's Song" layers euphoric wordless vocal embellishments over its high, lilting guitar lines, it evokes subtle strength and aging beauty. The hammering stop-start melodic runs in "Simon Is Stronger Than Us" draw an entirely different picture, fond and ironic and humorous. "On the Mountain"'s ever-so-slight Americana twanginess underscores Gira's homage to Johnny Cash, while "Dawn"'s hallucinogenic haze echoes the mystery of child-rearing, where they come from and where they go from you. Most of these songs are fragile and diaphanous, nearly transparent in their delicacy, yet a few take on extraordinary texture. Other People's first-written song, "Michael's White Hands", gets on quite well without the drums or electric instruments, building dense layers of rhythm with interlocking vocals and guitars. Inspired by a Michael Jackson documentary, the song finds an almost Christ-like resonance in that tawdry story, ending with a "Rose of Los Angeles"-style shouted chorus of, "Yes, I believe in Michael's hands." There's also a shimmering density to "My Friend Thor", dedicated to ex-Angels percussionist Thor Harris and embellished with very Akron/Family-ish swelling choruses. Near the track's end, a wonderful pastiche of Animal Collective-styled mouth sounds acknowledges the primacy of rhythm without resorting to drums. Gira's singing is quite strong here -- deep and effortless, full of feeling but without sentimentality. You can tell that these songs are important to him, not just because of their melody or lyrics, but because of the people they try to capture. It's that old trick, using art to fend off death and separation, but it seems to work at an extraordinarily high level here. "Some people, other people, they will never really expire," Gira sings in the gorgeous "To Live Through Some One", and we can feel them, too.