Review Summary: Let me be damned.
With the release of Letters Home
, we once again find ourselves at a time where opinions on Defeater are being spewed from a lot of people with a lot to say. Not that I blame them-- it’s been interesting to watch the hardcore group’s immediate popularity, then the more critical reception of their most recent efforts, and to be a part of that dialogue. Through such conversations, I’ve come closer to understanding exactly where Defeater lost its more traditional hardcore fanbase-- the rawness of the group’s debut Travels hasn’t been touched in quite some time, and the band’s music has instead been wearing its emotions on its sleeve.
Now, we all know what emotions come with a Defeater record-- sorrow, grief, loneliness-- and that’s because the band has become more or less infamous for how emotionally up-front it is. But this is where we’re approaching the group from the wrong angle, because Defeater knows
it’s over-the-top-- and I think we do, too. I suppose that’s why I’ve never had an issue with the group’s action-movie-come-soap-opera theatricality, because I’ve always enjoyed that aspect of its presentation. Defeater comes across as that one
Broadway show that’s so over-the-top that it’s discussed for years after its debut, the one that offers no subtleties, yet whose audience cares far more than that of its contemporaries.
And listeners like me, people that enjoy the bleak stories that come from the group, are bound to find the enjoyment in Letters Home
they found in Defeater’s previous releases. Little has changed here-- the band is continuing the story of a family in shambles, this time starring the abusive father of Empty Days and Sleepless Nights
’ trouble-bound narrator. It is interesting to hear the group conveying the message through its music, and I, for one, enjoy the fact that Defeater has continued its familial narrative-- it gives the band’s music a sense of urgency it might otherwise lack.
However, the music of Letters Home
is different from its predecessor, because it attempts to match the bleak atmosphere of its lyrics. While Empty Days and Sleepless Nights
offered songs that were entertaining enough without lyric booklet in hand, Letters Home
is much more dependent on its story for emotional impact. For those that listen to Defeater for purely musical reasons, most of Letters Home
is meandering, homogeneous and ultimately forgettable. Songs like “No Faith” are a chore for this crowd, because the instrumentation has little say in the tracks’ overall mood-- Derek Archambault is the only one telling the story this time around.
But when the story is either just starting up or about to end, things align as they should. While a bit derivative for Defeater, “Bastards” does something important for Letters Home
-- it carries the story on its back, while treading more musical ground than any of the other songs here. The most captivating moment of Letters Home
is its closer, though. “Bled Out” is a counterpart to Empty Days and Sleepless Nights
’ “White Oak Doors,” in that both tracks maintain every bit of tension their respective albums introduce. With “Bled Out,” though, the story ends properly, fading out after six minutes of droning percussion and whizzing feedback. The song’s monotony makes the denouement of Letters Home
that much more satisfying, because the cord is cut precisely when it needs to be. The story ends in tragedy, just as we all anticipated-- those expecting anything different just haven’t been paying close enough attention.