It is tempting to throw Other Families into the “weird” bin and call it a day. While “weird” isn’t necessarily a negative descriptor, it is a lazy way to describe the effort that Other Families put into crafting their elastic sound. The self-proclaimed DIY punk collective has a penchant for breaking conventions and reassembling them into exquisite corpses of songs. In terms of performance, Other Families tend toward the theatrical – including spoken word, improvised skits, high-energy light shows, and more. Subtlety is not their game, and they are aware that this can be polarizing. That being said, the adventurous (and erudite) listener will actually hear a number of familiar elements in the music itself. It isn’t often that a band reminds me of Man Man, Skinny Puppy, Menomena, Animal Collective, and Primus all at the same time. In this way, Other Families isn’t just another oddball act, but rather a group that embraces “punk” as a philosophy of breaking and rearranging rules as they see fit. If you’re into that sort of thing, the collective’s latest effort, house.xct_, will be an entertaining listen. Beware all ye who enter.
house.xct_ is a packed album. The sheer amount of changes, switch-ups, and misdirection make each song feel like its own world. My initial concern was that too many shifting parts would not allow for some standout moments. That concern was quickly dashed, however, as there are at least several instances per song where Other Families locks into a groove that engages all of the instrumentation before jumping back off the rails. Earlier works from the collective felt as though they were still finding their footing, with some songs sounding a bit over-produced or uneven. While past recordings are not un-enjoyable by any means, Other Families shows some major songwriting maturity on this record. In addition to this, house.xct_ has an all-around more consistent production, giving these new songs a stronger sense of cohesion. “Ransom Notes” opens the album with jazzy Amanda Palmer-esque vocals that eventually give way to a jump-worthy rock beat, a cascade of horns, and even (what sounds like) vibraphones. The male vocals have a “ring-leader” sort of feel to them that adds an energetic layer to the instrumentation, and the female vocals add a haunted atmosphere to the mix. The album then hangs a hard left turn into “Poolboy,” which ramps up an aggressive element that is only hinted at in the previous track. “Etobicoke Blow” begins as a trippy R&B funk blend that evolves into a circus-like barrage of percussion, bass lines, and shrieks. “Cue Sycophants” explores the band’s more playful and glitchy aspects. Skipping a bit ahead, “Talk To Hell” emits a chaotic attitude similar to early Butthole Surfers (in a good way). The further into the track list you get, the more dark and spastic the songs become. “The Girl Who Eats Blood” has moments of funk spliced with heavy hitting riffs similar to Fantomas’ Suspended Animation. “Limbo” opens with ominous dissonant percussion that quickly morphs into something that could have come out of the 90s industrial scene. “Promise” may be the tamest song of the bunch, as its tempo remains fairly even. This provides some breathing room before the finale and the vocals really excel here. However, it may be a bit held back by the main sample. “Tunnel of Luv” hits a strong finish akin to Burn-era Nine Inch Nails, and expands on the Mike Patton-ish vocal inflections. These references are all meant to be positive associations and to stress that Other Families’ music actually shares a great deal with other acts that blur genre lines in a similar way. Those who fear those blurred lines may not make it past the second track. The brave listeners who do venture deep into house.xct_ will be rewarded by the album’s delightful twists and turns.
But wait – there’s more! house.xct_ comes on a USB drive that includes a game. House, the game, is an elaborate adventure-style exploration that guides, insults, tricks and intrigues players as they dig deeper. The entire game is played through folders in your Finder (depending on the operating system you play on) that you open, leading to various “rooms” in a “house.” Some of these folders contain encrypted PDFs that require key codes to open them. Sometimes there are seemingly dead ends. Sometimes you interact with things, or things interact with you. There are dozens upon dozens of documents you can pick up along the way. These include pages that eventually form a narrative, tour notes, and poetry. You can find audio logs and video clips, and there is even a specialized jingle for when you find a key. Sound familiar? Imagine a haunted house game spliced with The Legend of Zelda, and all of it is displayed in a primitive yet effective format. The game is packed full of content and drives curiosity (much like the album). It is an impressive multi-media approach to further engrossing listeners/players into Other Families’ world and expanding the house.xct_ concept.
house.xct_ is not for everyone, but it would be awfully boring if it were. If you’ve read this far, you are at the very least intrigued, and that’s the first step. While the album’s uniqueness may be lost on the vanilla listener, the polarization is part of the art in the end. house.xct_ represents the next evolutionary step for the Other Families collective. If you are the right kind of curious, this is a great album to jump into with both feet.
(Dev Addison Bhat)