self-released / 2015
Halfway through the operatic new EP Exitus and Reditus of Andrew Darkstar Parrish, the personified voice of Reason interrupts a spasm of existential anguish to ask the titular character if he's had lunch yet - that might clear it up. And he should really hush with the cosmic bellyaching because his neighbors have work in the morning. Indie rock has a special knack for inflating personal crises into general apocalypses, but this debut from Ohio six-piece Dear Other spins enough of those genre conventions on their head to work both as a promising foretaste of a talented band and a pleasure in its own right.
Lead singer and songwriter Marc Barnes is best known for his blog Bad Catholic, where he channels G.K. Chesterton on the regular with generous helpings of Breaking Bad GIFs and an notable penchant for Pokemon. On Exitus and Reditus, "Andrew" is more or less his alter ego, and the album's narrative is a lightly-mythologized account of a spiritual crisis that played out in the midst of Barnes's relocation to the Rust Belt town of Steubenville. The tale's resolution sees the main character embrace his responsibility to his Neighbors and his Maker, and hews fairly close to the real, ongoing story of how Barnes and the rest of the band founded a music venue aimed to serve their community and resuscitate the city's broken downtown.
Barnes' smart-aleck persona stays fully intact in the shift from blogger to frontman (there are genuinely chuckle-worthy moments on this album), but so also does his keen sense for metaphor. There is poetic gold here to be unearthed only by repeat spins, and the faux rock-opera format demands to be listened to with lyrics in hand.
Dear Other is a challenge to pin on the musical map - there's a baseline of jangly guitar and some prog-y song structures, but laced with an Americana twang reminiscent of someone like Josh Ritter. Still, their most distinctive characteristic is found in the booming gang vocals, here playing the part of Andrew's put-upon Neighbors. On "New to the Neighborhood" they shepherd the frantic, disoriented young man through a post-breakup breakdown, and the deft call-and-response between Barnes and the rest of the band transforms the track into something special.
The same goes for "The Shadow Cast" which crackles with static electricity thanks to the friction between the two parties (not to mention its lovely crescendo-ing denoument which sounds like it was airlifted straight in from an Explosions in the Sky record). Andrew pompously holds forth on theology and his own heavenly revelations until the poverty-stricken Neighbors irreverently interrupt: "Son! We've got things to do besides listen to you" then continue "We've got a lot in common, us and the Lord/Equally abused, equally ignored/Working minimum wage at the grocery store". Indie rock does have a tendency to magnify angst, but there's no more obnoxious, world-swallowing angst to be found than the religious variety often peddled by bands of Dear Other's particular ilk. Accordingly, the moment plays as a self-deprecating nod to this simple truth: sometimes the best way out of a spiritual crisis is to just get over yourself. And try actually loving your neighbors instead of talking about it.