In Another Life wonderfully captures a feeling of resolute aimlessness.
There is that indelible moment: a car peeling down an open stretch of road, the speakers blaring a song that sparks irresistible feelings of red-hot anticipation. As the landscape changes and the destination lies waiting, the music scores your break from routine as the euphoria of escape wells up inside. Transcendence is imminent; you’re getting the hell out of Dodge and you’re getting there fast.
It’s a nice feeling, if not a fleeting one, and it’s easy to be snared by it no matter how much cynicism you carry around with you. It’s just one example of how music can fold itself into our unfolding experience of the world. It has the ability to add dramatic weight to procedural actions, and we find joy in the resulting motifs and mini-narratives. It’s the difference between simply driving across a state line and feeling a little like the Magic Rat.
Sandro Perri’s new record, In Another Life, wonderfully captures a feeling of resolute aimlessness. Described by the Toronto-based producer as an “experiment in ‘infinite’ songwriting,” it’s a record that slowly meanders its way through arrangements that embrace a Zen-like commitment to repetition — like a walker who treads the same path every day, taking joy in cataloguing the endless stream of changing details.
Music can add so much value to the experience of simply walking around with no fixed objective. Instead of fuelling fantasies of vehicular escape, music in this context fosters contemplation. The right walking song stretches out and meanders with the route. It compels you to savour the merits of daydreaming, of the journey over the destination, of noticing details over moving relentlessly towards something; of taking long arcs to cover short distances.
The stroll begins with the twenty-four-minute title track, which blankets the entirety of side A’s runtime with a languid, heady mix of synths, pianos, guitars, textures, and Perri’s delicate vocals. Defying the grandiosity usually expected of songs with its imposing length, “In Another Life” is understated and feather-light. Perri develops his ideas outward like branches and distributaries off of the main flow, continuously challenging the listener to invest in the subtlety of his composition. The song doesn’t “go anywhere” per se, at least not in any traditional sense. Instead, “In Another Life” opts to meander, adding and dropping elements on a whim before circling back around on itself.
Perri’s vocals sound like ponderous thoughts quietly uttered to oneself in moments of peaceful seclusion. As the title suggests, “In Another Life” is less about escaping life as it is about pondering paths not taken, parallel realities, and potentiality. It questions our better angels and what would happen if, collectively, we just did a little better: “Black, brown, red, blue, yellow, green, and white/Seen and understood in each its own right/And how freely goes a child at night/In another life”. He never preaches, scolds, or claims he has the answers; he simply considers all possible routes and asks us to do the same.
From the infinity of Side A, In Another Life’s second side finds yet another way to experiment with repetition. “Everybody’s Paris” is a song in three parts where each segment is helmed by a different vocalist: Perri takes part one, André Ethier of The Deadly Snakes takes part two, and Destroyer’s Dan Bejar takes part three. While each of these parts utilizes the same melodic and lyrical themes, Perri tweaks the respective instrumentation and arrangements to suit the idiosyncrasies of each vocalist. Part one is light and airy, progressing logically from Perri’s work on Side A. The warmth of part two is reminiscent of Ethier’s work on his excellent solo record Under Grape Leaves. Part three is quintessential Dan Bejar — lush and melancholic. The different parts play out like refractions of Perri’s core melodies and lyrics. Similar to how the title track subtly ripples outward from the main idea but never abandons it, “Everybody’s Paris” demonstrates how musical themes both change and stay the same when expressed by different artistic personalities. The conceit is a lovely one: we may have different outlooks, but we’re all essentially made of the same stuff.
In Another Life is yet another example of Sandro Perri’s singular approach to songcraft and production. As a continuation of his catalogue, it’s a notable change of pace from his last solo effort, 2011’s Impossible Spaces. Where that record was expansive and packed dense with ideas, In Another Life digs deep into its minimal components. Perri’s commitment to fusing the form and content of his newest record is impressive, almost maddeningly so. It will not win over listeners looking for flashy, exuberant thrills; instead, it will reward a patient listener — one who can stay actively attuned to its deceiving passivity.
For those inclined to the simple pleasures of wandering, who opt to build their worlds outward in concentric rings rather than pushing relentlessly forward with the blinders on, In Another Life is a record that will spellbind you; slowly, and with little fanfare.