Review Summary: 'I'm gonna raise hell until it's high enough to be heaven'
Truth be told, it’s a blessing that Letlive. decided to alter their style when they did. The far more dissonant and far less engaging style found on their first full length, Speak Like You Talk
(as well as on their only E.P.), could have set the band on a sound path that doesn’t reflect the ideals and innovation they have come to be noteworthy for. Whether it was through paying attention to the critics or simply a natural progression for the band, Letlive. are a unique and exciting act. The very first time the band showed up on my radar was at a festival few years ago; they were concluding their set with “Muther” just as we arrived to wait for the band immediately following. All I remember of that closing performance (since I didn’t actually know the music at that point) was the spectacle of the band on stage, exhibiting lunacy that I had never experienced in a concert environment. Going hand in hand with the lunacy however was an impressive command of their audience and the stage they were slowly destroying. The aspect that really hit home was the naturalistic way the band went about the pandemonium, like it was second nature to them. This is my concept of the band whenever they are mentioned - the short performance I was treated to encapsulated the band for me; organized chaos on an impressive scale, and with a flair for the dramatic that seemed to explode in cognition with the music itself. Now, with their third full-length release The Blackest Beautiful
, Letlive. continue on the straight and narrow in terms of sound, and further the perception in my own head of a band that are in control in their own warped way.
If anything, The Blackest Beautiful
feels somewhat more blinkered that previous effort Fake History
. There is greater emphasis placed on coherent musicality as opposed to the somewhat more “experimental” (for lack of a better word) tendencies of the album. Some might argue that this streamlines the release or even makes it more focused, but the charm of Fake History
was anchored in the fact that it was rough around the edges stylistically. It still made use of traditional song structures and various other relatively standard motifs, but the inherent effect of the music was an explosively anarchic post-hardcore experience. This effect feels somewhat propped up and realized in a less genuine way on The Blackest Beautiful
, being marginally less progressive and featuring more of a mix n’ match selection. That’s the negative. The positive is, the increased focus on melody gives the album a large amount of instantly-appealing riffage and vicariously enthralling vocals. The melodies found in the release are more pervasive and much less passing fancies this time around, with all tunes seeming to fuel the ever reliable vocalist, Jason Butler. Opening track and first single “Banshee (Ghost Fame)” exclaim the band’s intentions with all the subtlety of a a strip of rebar to the face, launching into the first verse and Butler’s shrill screaming out of a humming, distorted introduction. The inclusion of a sing-along chorus and crowd shouts in the verses intones the band’s intentions of a more live performance-orientated release, which works exceptionally well. The implementation of such sections feels organic rather than an endlessly tacked-on motif. Doubtlessly the nay-sayers will proclaim that this is the band “selling out,” but I argue it is the exact opposite; it is as if they have realized the appeal of their live performances, and are capitalizing on it so fans can join in more; the music is still the same.
Tracks range from pacey and thunderous to slow and restrained, and as such, the album offers a most satisfying selection of compositions. One track that has received a surprising amount of attention (mostly for its use of auto-tune) is “Dreamer’s Disease.” The track is undoubtedly one of the best on the release, if not the best. A snappy and fiddly riff launches the song into the first verse, and then the chorus, which is built on the auto-tune melody attributed to Butler’s voice. Toying with auto-tune is a dangerous preoccupation at the best of times, but the song pulls it off remarkably, with Butler’s quickly ascending and then descending high and lows creating a taut and unbelievably addictive track. There’s the construction of such lyrics as “....it feels like my eager hands are searching for that promiscuous skin. Don’t mock me by existing, my ambition went from handsome as hell to straight to ugly as sin.” It’s startlingly erudite stuff, with the matched sense of ambition first found on Fake History
. Similarly, the track “Pheromone Cvlt” builds itself up through vocal melody, albeit in a more considered way. The starkness of the lyrical content of the release is breathtaking, despite the fact that most listeners will only really “listen to” the clean passages on their first listen. When one is made aware of this content though, the songs take on new meanings and significance all their own, and this is an achievement in its own right. There are even a few instances of the band toying with outside musical influences, such as in the intro to “White America’s Beautiful Black Market,” which has an almost reggae/ jungle beat vibe, until Butler lets rip with another vicious scream. Even the understated background vocals on this song seem to emulate this, with the opening drum fill recycled at various points throughout, to a disorienting yet rich effect.
As opposed to a lot of their contemporaries, the effect of Letlive.’s music feels unintentionally clever. A number of bands, in an effort to achieve the desired scrambled-yet-intricate sound agonize over the nuances of the music until it’s perfect, making sure no facet of the music is without its significance. Occasionally, the problem with this is the careful work put into crafting the music shows, and the listener can sometimes feel the subtleties in the particular track being clouded by the heavy concentration afforded it. Letlive. bypass this impressively by lacking this sense of intricacy on the surface; the sound feels frantic and not much else. This, however, is simply the “rough around the edges” base playing its part. Inside these rough edges lies a painstakingly clever musical beast, without all of the delicate work baggage. Even on final track “27 Club,” the outright charging pace masks the careful deliberation of the music beneath, even though many of these attributes (such as the melody) could be seen to be on the surface of the sound. It’s a paradoxical but clever approach to songwriting, and whether it’s through intention or otherwise, it lends the band a quality that a number unfortunately lack. The outrageously infectious “The Fear Fever” is an inventive and very traditional track (structurally, at least), but the instrument breaks and little quirks in the pacing of the music, some of which barely scratch the surface, really add a glassy depth to the album; as such, this is a release that rewards repeated listens. It is actually slightly longer than Fake History
but doesn’t seem to be, possibly because of the accessibility factor the band seem to be working on. It is curious how such a minor change in a band’s sound can drastically increase their appeal, but The Blackest Beautiful
is more accessible than anything the outfit have done previously, and only after a few tiny adjustments.
The Blackest Beautiful
is an invigorating and ridiculously enjoyable ride, an experience borne out of the classic Glassjaw style of post-hardcore and pioneered to such an extent it feels fresh and original. The lyrics and musicality have the depth to sustain the experience as it thunders from one memorable track to the next, crunching guitars and piercing screams ever present. The question on most people’s lips, though, seems to be: is it as good as Fake History
? The truthful answer is: no, it isn’t. It represents a marginal lapse in quality for the band, and this alone will turn off a number of listeners. This is unfair though, because even though Fake History
is the better album, The Blackest Beautiful
is a fantastic experience all its own, and anyone who doesn’t listen simply because it is not “as good” is robbing him or herself. The album is more produced but is a far cry from the shout of “overproduction!” many seem intent on stamping the album with. The production is as essential to the overall sound as the music or the lyrics, and without the crisp sound production with the sharper edge, it would be a very different release indeed, and not in a good way. Regardless of how different this is to previous efforts, it complements the sound rather than hinders it. Some may find the clever course adjustment a lamentable quality, whereas others may enjoy the punchy songwriting and witty street eloquence; it’s completely a matter of stance. As post-hardcore goes, the release is neither as pure nor as fresh as Fake History
, but there’s still a remarkable amount of artistic integrity on display here, and it is clear from the outset that the band are not simply tagging themselves along with the crowd. They are more than a blip on the screen; they’re an exceedingly proficient outfit and have crafted one of the most mindlessly fun excursions for the genre for a considerable amount of time.