For a long time after I first heard it, I wanted to write a review for Letlive’s Fake History
. I’m not sure why I never did, but it probably had something to do with the apologist tone that I would have inevitably taken. I love Fake History
, even at one point giving it a classic rating. But whenever I would think about how to start a review, I would mostly try to come up with defensive explanations. “They don’t even sound like Glassjaw!” “Given some more time, I think that Jason Butler could have something really unique and hard-hitting to say about racial and social issues in America!” And for whatever reason, I imagined myself then making some sort of comparison between Letlive and velociraptors. Like, velociraptors, in your head, are sleek, badass predators built to hunt and kill. But they were actually covered in feathers and looked fu
The point, then, (I guess) would be this: can’t something still be cool even if it’s a little ridiculous?
But first, a word about those aforementioned Glassjaw comparisons. The single similarity I hear between the two bands is the tone of the clean vocals. To compare them in any musical sense is to either drastically overrate Letlive or drastically underrate Glassjaw. The things that Glassjaw were able to accomplish in both tone and texture are so far beyond most other bands in the post-hardcore genre that it’s almost unfair to compare anyone
to them, let alone a relatively young, unproven band like Letlive. I think I heard more Paramore in Fake History
’s choruses than anything else, and I guess people will see that as a negative, but I don’t. As for specific post-hardcore comparisons, they’ve always had more in common with the Alexisonfire-Hopesfall brand than anything else.
I think it’s appropriate then to ask what it is about Letlive’s music that causes people who dislike them to compare them to a pinnacle of the genre like Glassjaw when they really don’t sound too much like them. Letlive clearly have aspirations that are apparent even to their detractors: they shoot for big choruses, they write lyrics about big topics, and they deal, at times, in an intensity that is almost suffocating (if you don’t believe me, it’s possible you didn’t listen to “Casino Columbus” and “We, The Pros Of Con” enough). The Blackest Beautiful
attempts to coagulate its predecessor’s strengths into a cohesive statement that makes sense from start to finish and, perhaps, by its end, has said
something. Whether Letlive succeeded in that particular sense is up to the individual listener, but I can say that this album sounds much more mature to me than Fake History
, which I had already thought was pretty forward-thinking for a young band. Jason Butler, in particular, has gone for nuance rather than overt catchiness in his melodies, and the band as a whole is stronger for it. Songs on Fake History
sometimes sounded like they were simply vehicles for Butler’s frenetic performances instead of complete songs. That isn’t the case here, which means that most of these songs aren’t as immediate, but lack of immediacy is generally a good indicator of an album’s longevity, especially in post-hardcore.
Not that some of these songs don’t hit hard right out of the gate; the one-two punch of “The Priest And Used Cars” and “Pheromone Cvlt” comes to mind first. The former combines the nonstop riffing of earlier Letlive songs in the verses with a restrained chorus that features one of Butler’s best vocal performances, while the latter is all
restraint. It’s probably the most personal song on the album, by which I mean it deals with relationships, something that Butler doesn’t write much about. But a careful listen to the lyrics will reveal just how self-aware he is (“To all the girls who would be perfect for me/Break my jaw so we can’t talk about me”), which is a good counterpoint to those who feel that his constant vocalizing equates to selfishness. Sure, songs like “Banshee (Ghost Fame)” that feature rapped vocals can sound a little preposterous at first, but when you think about it, haven’t punk and hip-hop always sort of walked side by side? Butler certainly thinks so, and the more I listen, the less inclined I am to disagree with the way he chooses to present his message.
There have been some complaints about the album being underproduced, or at least poorly mastered, but those seem to be based on a bad leak. If anything, the album is too produced. Letlive would benefit from production that is a little more raw; the polished sound present here (and on Fake History
) can make Butler’s pre- and post-song ad-libs feel concocted and planned, which again doesn’t jive with the self-awareness that he reveals through his lyrics. And speaking of the lyrics, in closer “27 Club,” Butler cheekily describes himself as “an example, an exhibition,” and that can probably serve as the best available mission statement for him, his band, and The Blackest Beautiful
. He knows that in this world full of uncomfortable truths, one of the worst is that our entertainment often spurs more change than anything people see on the news or read in the paper. He knows that people use music and art to shape their views and beliefs even though they probably shouldn’t, and the least he can do is try to turn that into something positive. Who am I to call that ridiculous?