Review Summary: A strong effort from a post-Shiner Alan Epley, showcasing endless possibilities for The Life and Times.
Welcome to the world of Alan Epley; former frontman and collective genius of math-rock stalwarts Shiner. Shiner was formed in 1992, produced 4 studio albums with their magnum opus being “The Egg” released in 2001, and then subsequently broke up in 2003. Shiner was really good, I mean REALLY good. “The Egg” saw a band fully realizing their potential and sadly that realization went relatively unnoticed by critics and fans of alternative alike. So, what did Mr. Epley do after the breakup of such a great band? Well, he created another one. The Life and Times are an independent alternative and space rock band currently consisting of Alan Epley (guitar, lead vox), Chris Metcalf on drums, Eric Albert on bass, and Rob Smith also on guitar (Rob Smith left the band in late 2011). Other former members include drummer Mike Meyers and John “Houdini” Meredith. In 2005, the band released their debut effort, “Suburban Hymns” to critical acclaim. After successive touring for the album, the band regrouped for their sophomore effort, “Tragic Boogie”. There really isn’t anything tragic about the album, contrary to the album title. Soaring and imaginative, this effort by The Life and Times is tremendous. No doubt in the world from my end. Finding cons in this sea of pros is like trying to find a just, morally sound politician in the Senate. It’s that good.
The Life and Times possess a sound only akin to that of Alan Epley pre-mentioned former band Shiner. Gaunt riffing from the likes of Mr. Epley and Rob Smith, some downright great bass playing from Eric Albert and specialized, concise grooves from drummer Chris Metcalf. The sound is massive enough to satisfy even the largest stadium audiences. The musicians seem to mesh together perfectly when they play. The execution of parts on this is LP is so completely perfect that its frightening; it’s almost like they’re just a band of robots playing predetermined sine waves on certain ear-pleasing frequencies, with computerized rhythm section completely invulnerable to gaffes.
From execution we move on to playing, and the playing definitely isn’t robotic. The playing is, in fact, full of vitality and when a band sounds alive, great moments happen in the studio; such as this one. The Life and Times commence their sophomore effort with “Que Sera Sera”; a grandiose display of optimism to open the record. The soundscapes created by this track are mammoth in stature. Imagine yourself flying at 30,000 feet on a cloudless, summer day, simply observing the plains below you in awe. More of the same feeling is expressed in the next track “Fall of the Angry Clowns”, but it’s toned down and switched up in a way that makes it sound genuine. The album starts off with a leap and continues flying forward methodically.
From the first two tracks we move on to the groove heavy highlight “Let It Eat”, where we hear the rhythm section breaking it down over elegant 7th and 9th chords in the guitars as well as dreamy, grandiose vocal harmonies. Alan Epley sure knows how to sing on key and though he sounds like J. Robbins from Jawbox
sometimes, he doesn’t try blatantly to rip off his vocal style. Also about the vocals, “Old Souls” has wonderfully glimmering vocal effects, highlighting Alan Epley’s vocal melodies. Keyboards and marimbas are also used during the intro and outro of this track, adding yet dimension to an already multi-dimensional sound.
Another tremendous fact about the album is the rhythm section. Oh my lord, this rhythm section kicks ass. Evidence of this is “Confetti”. “Confetti” features a slide guitar, but that ain’t the highlight. No no no, it ain’t. Stealing the spotlight like they have done throughout the duration of the LP, the rhythm section of Albert and Metcalf do it yet again playing syncopated yet, simple, tectonic plate displacing rock. This is all that you want from a rhythm section.
The only apparent con about this album is the lack of emotional variety. The first 6 tracks sprint by waving the optimism banner. I would have liked to see emotion being displayed like the various emotional and lyrical themes of “The Egg” by Shiner, but it doesn’t really bog down the album in any way. Rhythmic and melodic structures begin to grow redundant by “Tragic Boogie”, but soon differentiate on “The Politics of Driving” which features the rhythm section yet again (wow).
In conclusion, The Life and Times have created a superb, fantastic album which is so painfully close to being a classic. All songs featured here are highlights; listen to it wholly. The only con is the lack of emotional diversity but when something is executed such as this album was, it becomes less and less of an issue. The rhythm section outshines the rest of the band most of the time, maybe making the record a tiny bit lopsided when it comes to sound, but nonetheless fantastic. Here, Alan Epley proves that he can still shine without Shiner, and he definitely shines brighter than most with this effort.