I’ve never reviewed a Life and Times record, yet I’ve been an outspoken fan of every record and EP they’ve ever touched. Of course, now that I operate a music blog with no restrictions, they’ve decided to put out their strangest record to date: an explorative vision of love, violence, and overwrought devotion. Each song is a representative demand: some songs are declarations of lovely and desirous commands to gain a lover’s attention, others are penetrating decisions that border on madness. In either case, recording a concept as simple and engrossing as this one demands a different approach: each song is a day in the life, or more correctly a day in the thoughts, of a person attempting to ensnare his mate. No One Loves You Like I Do is a penetrating look inside love’s consuming force. Therefore, I decided to place the songs in order to possibly expose the core of the album. Experimentation begets experimentation.
“Day One” is a confessional. Beyond the normal “boy sees girl, boy likes girl” or vice-versa, the first lyric is “If you love me/ I will love you/ and if you don’t/ I’ll still love you.” It’s assumptive to think that’s creepy or abnormal, but the song continues that vibe. Later: “If you sleep,/ I will watch you./ In your dreams/ you might love me/ and set my fingers/ through your fingers/ just like lovers.” The breathy delivery builds to a boiling point of riff-led theatrics in the middle of the song. This record isn’t lacking for instrumental breaks with manic drum fills or repeated phrses. Point of fact, these are often the closest thing we get to choruses. The wall of acerbic guitar is not conditional either. Even during downtempo times, background filler is an important and distinctive voice in the record. As the song progresses, the noises grow louder as the speaker of the song proclaims his intents to love fiercely and forever.
By “Day Two,” it’s apparent that our protagonist has an antecedent or two to proclaim. What has driven this man to such heights of confession? “Nothing moves me./ Nothing moves me now.” The dreaminess is exactly that from “Day One”: vapor. The singular focus of the record is in “Day Two.” If he was confessing his love before and the band was following him musically, now he has focus and clarity. So, too, does the band. A bass and drum-led verse come full-throttle in the chorus. A pair of reverberated keyboard notes lapse in the background. “No one sees me./ No one can see me now.” Is the protagonist now fully enveloped in the dream world– the one where lovers’ hands have intertwined? If so, the music develops a less passive tone that we would imagine. The last 2:30 of the song explores a side of the record we won’t see again. “Day Two” is breakdown-laden and nearly porous. It slips into holes of harsh basslines and breakbeats, but never overpowers the listener. The keys, the wailing of the singer (“nothing sees me”) all point to a waking dream.
“Day Three” follows further down the seething rabbit-hole. The songs lyrics are the most realistic and relationship-like on No One. The opening drone fades the song into a beginning crescendo: “When the fight began/ dogs just barked and children ran/ and as our hopes went dry/ we lit our cigarettes from off the fire.” Then the “chorus”: “That’s the way it’s always been.” There’s double meaning here. Both the current relationship and the idea of a relationship are called to task here. Personally, I love the image of a fight driving dogs and babies to emotion and causing a metaphorical fire. The second verse: “We vanished without a trace,/ Can’t explain how we got to that place./ They said that mistakes were made,/ the very same mistakes we’ve made/ and history will eat itself.” There’s extra measures to repeat “They say mistakes were made.” The comparatives between the current relationship and society’s view of the relationship continues. The vague “they” judge from the outside of love, as “they” are wont to do, but the protagonist’s cry of “History will eat itself” maintains the album’s theme: even in a tough time, No One Loves You Like I Do. Truly, this is delusion beyond grandeur, a modern Heloise and Abelard story. Once the speaker claims his love will outlast the collision of stars and the destruction of earth, the rest is noise, quite literally.
Day Four: none
“Day Five” is a return to the dream songs. Allen Epley’s vocals/the bassline are hyper-distorted and used in short bursts over long-spiraling vibraphone keys. Declarative and promissory, the lyrics state simply the plans to make the protagonist’s life complete. The chorus-like repetition of “No one loves you like I do” re-introduces the unhealthy obsessiveness prevalent through most of the album. “All your friends?/ Forget them./ I’ll be the one who keeps your hopes and secrets/ locked away so they can’t steal them.” He’s protective to a fault here, protecting the only important item ever discussed on the album.
“Day Six,” musically, is the most like the past incarnations of The Life and Times. Big, heavy bass strokes lead the drums in a cymbal-less drive through the first 1:20 of the song before noisy feedback and delayed vocals take the song over. That first 1:20 continues the protective vibe of “Day Five’s” lyrics, only with a commanding voice unheard of until now. He warns the wandering mind of his lover not to get tangled or lost since, “I’m the one/ be good to me/ I’ll lock the door/ and eat the key.” We’ve moved from love-letters and musing to masculine fieriness. If love is not perfect, enclose it. Heloise, meet Rapunzel. Meanwhile, “Day Six” is an achievement in other ways: the drums drop in and out when the moments merit them. The fluidity of the guitars fills the song out entirely and Epley’s sharp vocal structures fill a void rather than accentuating and already crowded musical house. His most triumphant lyrical moment sets the stage for the rest of the record: “Find someone. / Fall in Love./ Give Your Soul./ Lose your soul./ Lose their love./ Find someone else./ Take their love.” This is the closest the listener gets to the mentality of the speaker. The lack of faith in the conundrum of love, the pattern of love, the overall unpleasing nature of continuance is finally a form-fitting way to describe our protagonist. He’s not just a stalker, he’s a man as tired of emotion as many of us. And he’s directing his pain.
Day Seven: none
Day Eight: “All of a sudden/ everything changes/ no hiss or warnings/ no signs pointing the way / friends are floating farther away.” An acoustic-guitar driven jam about how lost people get in each other for extended periods of time? Yeah, I’m with that. But then, the shift: “There’s no place for comfort./ There’s no one to keep you from harm/ but I’ll be waiting.” This is the end of the dream, the final idea of the record (in real time, anyway). As the protagonist is floating toward a harsh reality, he’s realizing how far away from love he might actually be, if love is shared. He’s alone. When the song hits its huge, noisy crescendo, the “floating in space” feeling finally takes the full undertaking the album has suggested all along. A headbanging drumline is under a wonderfully dreamy, if seldom-hit, riff. The whole concept feel like it dies in this song, this set of noises, this falling away from the dream of love.
Then, back to the grind of direct-speak and intimidation in “Day Nine.” “Baby, lift the weight off your shoulders./ Take the fucking weight off your shoulders and throw it./ Forget everything that they told you./ They could never take away what I have shown you.” Now that “they” are back in the picture, the music is more menacing and back to building collisions and the lyrics reflect it: “Put away your makeup now baby./ Baby, show your those bruises,/ there’s no shame there./ Put away your makeup now baby,/ show them what they’ve done to your eyes.” We’re nine days in, and the plot has turned entirely. From the descriptive dreamscapes and subtly dreamy narrative comes reality’s treason. The protagonist’s love is too powerful, all-consuming. And like most positions of power, the system of love is corrupt. Heloise, Rapunzel? There’s a big, bad wolf awaiting you. “Dance through the room,/ stitch in your head,/ pulling it through/ with needle in thread.” Dangerous obsessions still find beauty. Though it’s a story we see so often, it’s never less powerful when done well. If the love seemed unrequited before, the love now seems all-too-realistic and fatal here. The final choral minute-plus is a definitive view of how well this band captures a moment. It’s uncomfortably bass-heavy and disproportionately overwhelming compared to the rest of the album– and rightfully so.
If “Day Nine” is the violent focal point of the record, “Day Ten” is the actuality of thought. The protagonist is through proclaiming through words or violence. He’s rested his laurels with a simple decision: “You’ll discover/ I’m the only one who cares./ No one dares./ So I decided/ to write a letter from my heart…” This action of apology, no matter how misguided, is the definition of failed perception. The protagonist, now the antagonist, cannot apologize enough, but still shows the capability of humility: “I’m the servant and the master all in one/ thy will be done.” Can a more beautiful line be quoted from the mouth of a lost soul? We’re seeing Paradise Lost here or a house divided by action, mended by words. It truly doesn’t matter what “they” (or even we/I) think. There is only his love, accepted or no. “So, keep on walking,/ pass the others in the halls./ They’ll never call./ And when you wake up,/ I’m the only one who’ll see. Just you and me.” Love is a lonely bastard, eh? “Day Ten” is the modern scope of intangible, unthinkable love.
“Day Eleven” is a stop-start, herky-jerky, even reactionary track. The protagonist is questioning the power of his subject’s love. Like a series of tests: would you kill for me? Would you save me? Would you take care of me? Would you transcend love to be perfect with me? “There is nothing I won’t do/ to prove to all my love for you” is layered through the end of the song in a delicate, beautiful tracking/studio trick to add a layer we’ve not seen on the record thus far. While questions remain for our speaker, there is no questioning how good this record is any longer. Cheesy lines to win the lover’s heart included, this song defines the record’s hazy, limitless musicianship. Impressively layered, masterfully culling the feeling from tired lyrics, “Day Eleven” would be my favorite song on this record if it were a lesser record.
It isn’t a lesser record. Culling voices of the past (Failure comes immediately to mind), The Life and Times create a sonic distance throughout this record only to make a single, brilliant track that recalls the spacey rock tracks that made this band one of my favorites. An overconfident speaker proclaims that he will slip back into his ex-lover’s skin. At no time did we really know if the two were apart until now, but the speaker refers to his love as an example of brilliance. The chorus (yes, the verse-chorus-verse system exists on this album at least once) has a beautiful harmony that drives even harder than the rhythm section’s impeccable timing. “My love is alive/ My love is sublime/ like the light from a thousand suns.” He ends the song, and effectively the entire thought process/ concept: “Splashed up to the ocean floor/ I can’t get you out of my head.” There is nothing, even his own failure, that can keep his love at bay. Not the ocean, nor the sun. Sure, we’ve heard that line before. It doesn’t stop the idea from existing. Nor does it stop No One Loves You Like I Do from delivering the opus.
So, I reviewed a Life and Times record finally. While I’m scratching that off the ole bucket list, I should speak to the overall brilliance of the record, but I’m wiped out, man. This was like two weeks of thinking only about this one record for the most part. Trying to understand it, to stop being so in love with it and failing, making it my favorite record of the year, being disgusted with how much drivel the lyrics present, knowing that drivel creates the everyman character speaking to us, loving “Day Nine” so much… it all became a hassle. Then I started actually writing. This record is meant to be analyzed, pulled apart, disassembled, reassembled, denied/forgotten/remembered/rescued. No One loves this record like I do, probably. It is an oft-spacey dreamscape and and oft-realistic depiction of love’s ever-consuming bounty. The Life and Times wrote a record for the ages to be lost on most and never heard by more than most. No One Loves You Like I Do represents so much about why I write about music, and so little about music itself. You can probably see why I am so obsessed with it and you’ll excuse me if I don’t care what “they” say about it. Or don’t say. They’ve probably said enough. I can’t get them out of my head. Don’t want to.
Side note, Here’s the actual order of the album:
Day Six, Day Nine, Day One, Day Five, Day Three, Day Eleven, Day Ten, Day Two, Day Twelve, Day Eight. You can cut-and-paste to that order if you want. Experimentation begets experimentation.
It’s possible that these were just the days spent in the studio recording the songs, but if you present a theme as strong as different phases of love? The listener has to assume something thematic in the titles is a corollary. At least, if you are a listener so obsessive that you listen to albums 10 times before you write about them, you see that corollary. If each day is representative of a different emotional connection (as I think they are), the worst I’ve done is talk about the songs out of order.