On Murder By Death and The Other Shore
Theres a gentle susurration, as if an orchestra is warming up. The swell of an accordion before a guitar is plucked delicately and you are thrust headlong into a new (old) world. Thus begins the new opus from Murder By Death, storytellers extraordinaire, and what follows is 40 minutes of bliss that pulls influences from the veteran band's discography to spin a tale that spans years and lightyears.
MBD have made a career of spinning yarns. From full-length sagas like "Who Will Survive" and Red of Tooth and Claw, to the thematically-linked cautionary tales of In Bocca Al Lupo or Big Dark Love, to their crowning-glories, Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon and Good Morning, Magpie. Their flare for the dramatic and the cinematic has been omnipresent--bleeding into their live shows (including at their annual residency at the Stanley Hotel, their shows at Pappy and Harriet's, and, most recently, miles below the earth in Tennessee caverns outside of Nashville). All of this, and it is with The Other Shore, that the band yet again succeeds in crafting such a meticulously immersive multimedia text that it easily ranks among the band's best efforts despite only being out a matter of weeks.
The Other Shore tells the story of a near-future, where two lovers take opposing solutions to the problem of a dwindling earth. One heads for the stars, boundless hope, and wonder while the other remains to fade in a ghostly wasteland. "Alas" easily muscles itself into the best of Murder By Death's oeuvre as the first lover takes flight. "Chasing Ghosts" begins minor, the hurt and bitter longing apparent in the narrator's voice--before concretizing to a stubborn defiance. "True Dark" seems to remain on earth, imagery of burning cities moving through a rollicking goth-rock tune, the narrator acknowledging the inevitableness of the earth's doom. The thread is continued in "Stone" as "the one who stayed behind"'s troubles only begin.
More than anything its the tonal changes which differentiate the narrators' voices. While the album seems to hand off each thread to the next, that structure doesnt seem to hold true throughout and the listener is left with context clues to try and recognize the differences. "Travelin Far" is the best example of this, morphing the previous tunes' rollicking punkish influences into the wondrous, open expansiveness alluded to in the narrative. Finally, the lovers' story wraps up in the final songs of the record--the space-bound lover's jubilation in "I have arrived" seeming to come down in a quiet reflectiveness in "New Old City," while the album concludes on its most cinematic track, a quiet, mournful dirge that hearkens back to Who Will Survive...'s most evocative imagery as the world finally crumbles in a quiet sigh--horrors and wonders alike looked at with a hopeless neutrality. The narrator wanders through the world, observing things with a resignedness that is strikingly cold, before ending with a swelling march--perhaps a final courageous decision to soldier on or simply a gathering of what courage is left to make a final decision at all.
From start to finish its a gorgeous, transportative effort. One that is so lovingly crafted, so passionately conceived that it rewards on every new listen. The thoughtfulness, too, extends to it's packaging, the record LP version boasting storybook-lush and typically moody illustrations that literally thrust you onto a new world and into the narrative in a pop-up book style. An actual planet comes rushing at you, a foreboding orange in a morose sky.
Simply put, there is no band like MBD. Eight full lengths in and the band's inventiveness and creativity remain razor-sharp while their constantly-expanding sound never betrays their roots nor sacrifices their ambitions or curiosity. That they have cultivated a cult-like fanbase with folks such as myself paying hundreds of dollars on lavish trips or supporting their artistic and business efforts is of little surprise and the love and respect the band shows in return through creating lovely, beautiful, and haunting new epics is apparent. The Other Shore is a triumphant, soaring hight point in the year and rockets to the forefront of their catalogue.
Check it out from Bloodshot records--out everywhere now.