St. Even‘s Other Times You Die is a record that builds on the past successes of Steve Hefter (he who is St. Even) as a quiet indie-pop artist by expanding his palette in a wide array of ways. The expansion of his sonic bounds coincides with a more well-developed sense of the album as a unit, as he tells a distinct–if perhaps not exactly chronologically ordered–story about the joys and disappointments of relationship.
So, that sonic space. Hefter’s previous work relied heavily on acoustic instrumentation, spartan arrangements, and a lot of patience. On this record, he is not as patient–there are things zooming all over the place from the beginning to the end of the album. There are electric guitars!There are electronic bits! There’s found sound! All these things make it a very exciting record.
It is a bit of a departure from his previous work, although there are a couple tracks which strip everything out and leave just the core of his songwriting (“Opaquing,” “Not What You Think,” “Shittiness”). Those stripped-down songs sound remarkably like his previous work. So, this record is less of a change in his sound, and more of an expansion of what he was previously doing.
The expanded songwriting takes shape in many ways. There are nigh-on rock songs like the title track and opener “Piling It On”, which features crunchy guitar and sees Hefter in a bit of a power-pop attack mode. Love song “Matchmaker” has a tropical vibe, full of steel drums and Vampire Weekend style arrangements. “Every Night” is some sort of stuttery neo-funk tune. There are multiple interludes that show off his ability to create pastiches and found sound arrangements. These are all a heck of a lot of fun.
The core of the record, though, is not about his sonic explorations. The record is really about the highs and lows of a relationship from the giddy start and the amazing highs to the not so great parts (“Little Things”). There are plenty of indications that there is trouble in paradise on this record, and they are carefully and unsparingly documented (“3/18/06”). However, this is a record about trying to keep a relationship together as opposed to a document of one falling apart. This is most clearly shown in “Shittiness,” where Hefter attests to the need to keep perspective while things are going well; he needs to not take good times in a relationship for granted.
Closer “Happy Last New Year” is a true resolution: things are going well in the relationship. This allows Hefter to bust out a very-traditionally-St. Even melancholic tune about how he feels like the world is falling apart right as he feels like he’s getting himself together. Even though this is a closer that’s supposed to be a bummer, it’s mostly a reassuring song–you can have totally shitty moments in your relationship and yet still come out the other side. In that way, the record is a record about how to stay together as opposed to the many records about how to fall apart. This doesn’t mean that there’s not fights, even bad ones – but in the end all turns out well (or at least seems like it). That’s pretty rad.
This is an under-the-radar triumph of indie-pop songwriting. If you like St. Even’s previous work, there are a couple tracks that sound just like it here. But if you’re not a fan of quiet, moping indie-pop with indelible melodies, there’s a lot more going on this record which might interest you too. If you like unique, disjointed, unusual indie-pop arrangements, you’ll be into this. So there are a lot of people who should be liking this record, not the least of which being optimists. Also, realists who are trying to be optimistic. Long live St. Even. Highly recommended.