“Lover, the lord has left us,” answered Charlemagne, though he wasn’t sure if Penelope could hear him, “if ever the lord was here.” – “Charlemagne & Penelope” by Chris Haynie
We all have that band or artist which opened our eyes to the broader spectrum of what music is capable of being. From getting a chorus stuck in your head for a week straight to having your perspective changed for life, we can all probably trace that moment back to one song or album. For me, The Sound of Animals Fighting is that band. The first time I ever heard “Act II: All is Ash or The Light Shining Through It,” I knew that I had stumbled upon something with much more substance and intention than anything I’d ever heard before. This was art. Today, their second album, Lover, The Lord Has Left Us… (Equal Vision Records), turns 10. Let us reflect, shall we?
For a good while, TSOAF were shrouded in mystery. Hidden behind animal code names and masks in press photos, the musicians behind the project knew from day one that they didn’t want the music to gain traction based on who was a part of its creation, but rather that it speak for itself as a wholly artistic endeavor. Although the world quickly unmasked the creators, their goal had already been met in many ways. Even as just men on the other side of the curtain, their colorful, magical land of Oz had been laid, brick by yellow brick, with experimentation and attention to detail as mortar.
For this second album, core musicians Rich Balling (“The Nightingale”), Matthew Embree (“The Walrus,” RX Bandits), Chris Tsagakis (“The Lynx,” RX Bandits) and Anthony Green (“The Skunk,” Circa Survive)—along with a zootopia of friends—decided to take a much different approach in comparison to the post-hardcore powerhouse that was Tiger & The Duke, the supergroup’s first record. Using more electronic influences brought into play by “The Lynx” himself, Lover… created an entirely new and unexpected sound. The enlistment of scene veterans Craig Owens (“The Ram,” Chiodos) and Keith Goodwin (“The Penguin,” Good Old War)—as well as multi-lingual singers from many different backgrounds—added even more layers to an already dense dissertation.
Spanning twelve tracks, Lover… follows no linear path. Opening with a droning noise “Intro” with trumpets braying over static and continuing with Craig Owen’s falsetto a capella “Un’aria,” the album is anything but ordinary. First single, “Skullflower,” showcases Green’s unique range paired with Sanskrit vocals by Amirtha Kidambi, where she sings (translated), “Take me from darkness to light. Take me from death to eternity.” “Horses In The Sky” is the closest they come to the style of Tiger & The Duke, as a heavier, guitar-driven track, led by Owens’ signature tenor vocals. Throughout the rest of the album, many more different languages (Persian, German, etc.) and percussive instruments (pots and pans, beatboxing) can be heard on several different tracks, including “Stockhausen, Es Ist Ihr Gehirn, Das Ich Suche (Stockhausen, Your Mind is What I’m Searching For),” “Prayers On Fire,” and “St. Broadrick Is In Antarctica.”
We reached out to drummer Chris Tsagakis about the development of the album and its recording process. Here’s what he had to say:
“‘Lover…’ was a pretty fun record to create. My favorite part about it was how different it was from ‘Tiger & the Duke.’ That’s what’s been great about The Sound of Animals Fighting, is that it’s always been more of an art project. When it comes to art, true art, there are no mistakes. There’s no wrong way to do things, except to limit yourself. Even though, technically, music is an art form, it seems like most musical projects are always trying to stay within certain bounds, whether it’s genre, or simply trying to sound like the other records that project has made. Sound of Animals has always been a project where we have felt free to do anything we want, and ‘Lover…’ was a good example of that.
I also liked the fact that I got to write some songs for that album (‘Horses In The Sky,’ ‘Stockhausen…,’ ‘Prayers On Fire,’ ‘This Heat,’ ‘St. Broadrick’). I very much enjoyed writing drums for the other two albums but it was fun to get a chance to write the music also. I wrote the beats, synths, samples and chord progressions for those. Matt (Embree) added guitars, some percussion and noises, and of course vocals were added by various people. But I wrote the basis of all those. Actually all those songs were songs I had previously written, and Rich (Balling) called me up one day and said ‘we’re doing another Sound of Animals record’ and wanted to know if I had any songs to contribute. I told him I did but they were all electronic. He was down for it, so I gave him all the songs and let him work his magic. It was the first time I heard vocals over songs I had written, and I was blown away. It inspired me to continue writing, and made me feel like the random sampling of sounds and synthesizer noodling I had been doing could actually be turned into real songs.
It was also a lot of fun to try and figure out how to play all the songs live when we did the second set of shows.”
Dividing the album into three separate parts are two spoken word pieces, backed by similar stylings as “Intro.” These tracks, “Chiriacho Summit” and “The Golden Boy That Was Swallowed By The Sea,” borrow words from the works of poets M. Gira and Nathan Burke. The pieces paint pictures with vivid imagery and cryptic metaphors. “The sun is setting, a distant hill. Pour the bottles at the horizon,” from “Chiriacho Summit” and strong emotions from “The Golden Boy…”:
“The golden boy is swallowed by the sea
And love is sometimes violent, and violence has no constraint
And I can see inside you, Yes, I can feel what you think
And with this knife of silver I will release your soul
And throw it out into the ocean, nine million miles in a straight line
In a place just like this, in a ship on the water, where no dimensions exist
My hands are hitting your picture, and the image, it shifts
I tear it up and scatter it over the ocean, the golden boy that was swallowed by the sea.“
Shortly after the release of this album, TSOAF played live as a whole for the first time ever for a few nights on the West Coast. One of these performances—which included many songs from Lover…—was recorded on video and subsequently released as a live DVD, titled We Must Become The Change We Want To See. Joining the myriad members in their performances (and later ones in 2014) were Steve Choi and Joe Troy of RX Bandits. The musicians also shared the stage with two artists painting in two different styles, as well as several interpretive dancers who came out to embellish different songs. The majority of the songs on Lover… were later remixed by different artists, including Portugal. The Man and Chris Tsagakis’ electronic alter ego, Technology, when EVR re-released a remastered version of Tiger & The Duke in 2007.
Ten years from today, when this album is twenty years old, it will still be ahead of its time. We need music like this. We need music that makes a statement as a piece of sonic art amidst the sea of four-chord hit singles about lost love and hometown scorn. We need musicians who aren’t afraid to take several steps outside the mold and look you dead in the eyes as they do so. We need musicians who will keep experimenting and attempting to find and harness new sounds and styles, or else the music industry will weave itself into more of a cycle than it already has. Innovate, create, push, deviate, side-step, embellish, get fucking weird. Never be afraid to be as unique as you possibly can. Contrary to popular belief, music does not need to be one giant talent contest. The only people musicians should be competing with is themselves. Make something that will change your own life and hopefully someone else’s. Make something that will not only get stuck in someone’s head for a week, but will change their entire perspective on the way they listen to music.
“A moment to think before we will sing. The beauty’s aligned so sweetly. And don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid…” – The Sound of Animals Fighting, “The Heretic,” Lover, The Lord Has Left Us...
The Sound of Animals Fighting’s second studio album, ‘Lover, The Lord Has Left Us…’ was released on this day in 2006.