Deciphering beauty in the Life and Times

Into the vast beyond
By LUKE O'NEIL  |  February 21, 2012

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SLOW ROLL The Life and Times' new release is a sped-up, time-lapse panorama of a record.
You're standing at the edge of a vast canyon. Beautiful, right? From this point, there are two directions you can go. You can take a good long look, breathe it all in, then think to yourself, "Eh, I get the idea" and head back to the car, take out your phone, and see what's funny on Twitter. Or you can get lost in its majestic expanse, let the overwhelming enormity pull you in. I'm inclined toward the former myself, which explains why I tend to like my music to be immediate, and ultimately disposable. But if you force yourself to stand there a moment longer than seems comfortable, there are rewards to be had.

That's a rough approximation of my initial experience with No One Loves You Like I Do, the recent album from the Life and Times (on Slimstyle). A sped-up, time-lapse panorama of a record, it traffics in a dense, moody style that unfolds gradually. Not that the songs here, from Allen Epley (formerly of the '90s outfit Shiner), are difficult or obscurant musical pontificating— it's just a lot to make sense of at once. Song by song, there's plenty to bite into: "Day Nine" has a looping, gritty bass riff as its grounding architecture. Which is good, because you'll need to hold fast to it while the contents of the musical house spin off into the air. By the following track, "Day One," all that's left is the familiarity of the bass tone drawn out in an extended passage. Epley's voice seeps into the cracks, and slow-dropping piano notes pass by like stone mile markers along a dark road. "Day Five" shifts back to a flattened landscape of stuttering drum machinery, a buzzsaw of bass deforesting distant acreage, disembodied voices crackling through the static.

It's that type of record. Each listener will be inspired to his or her own flights of world-building fantasy and personal imagery. "I don't know what that place is," Epley says on the phone from Chicago. (His day job there is as a musician in that city's Blue Man Group, with an amazing lineup of indie vets from the likes of 5ive Style, Sunny Day Real Estate, Poster Children, and Liz Phair's band.) "There's a certain arid, kind of deserty terrain to it," Epley says of the album. "But without being stoner rock. It has a kind of dry, crispness to it. It does have some pretty linear fluid things on top with the guitar, but bass and drums create this rocky kind of basis to build it off of."

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The naming structure — titled out of sequence from "Day One" to "Day Twelve"— is part of that conceptual ambiguity. "We liked the idea of it being open-ended and people connecting with lyrics and creating what they think of [as] their own title. . . . The disorienting effect maybe comes as apropos for the subject matter. It's kind of heavy, full of serious desperation, obsession, longing, an unrequited-love kind of thing."

There's push and pull between creating a mood and keeping the structure of a rock song intact, Epley says. The result fits neatly into the "space rock" genre that has followed him around since his work with Shiner. Whether it's a timely visit to the past, however, isn't clear to him.

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