Saturday, July 6, 2013

Album Review: Letlive - The Blackest Beautiful

Album Rating: B
It was almost inevitable that Jason Aalon Butler would buy into his own hype eventually. Not many post-hardcore singers from recent years have garnered comparisons to vocal benchmark Daryl Palumbo, and of those even fewer have been deservedly so. After the release of Fake History however, Butler established himself as one of the talented minority. His frenetic live performances were backed up on record with hysterical harsh vocals and delectable cleans, and whilst the instrumentation too was stellar, it wasn't difficult to glean who the poster boy might be. The Blackest Beautiful sees Letlive play to Butler’s strengths to such a degree that it occasionally works to the band’s detriment, but whilst some of the rhythmic brilliance from albums past has been sacrificed for Butler’s whims and fancies, his zeal and talent are such that the decision is mostly justified.

As soon as infectious lead single “Banshee” reminds you why you love Letlive so much one thing becomes abundantly clear - the production on The Blackest Beautiful is incredibly muddy. Whether or not the lo-fi production was adopted in an attempt to convey the gritty nature of their live shows or whether it intended to channel a darker vibe, the result is unpolished rather than organic, and fans of their squeaky clean sophomore may be perturbed. The smooth transitions on “Homeless Jazz” were enhanced because of the seamless production value and the dynamic shifts were accentuated because of the contrast it allowed. Its removal on The Blackest Beautiful means that this juxtaposition is not so easily distinguishable, making Butler’s job harder and the transitions less powerful.

But in spite of this fundamental flaw, and regardless of the album’s rhythmic limitations, Letlive have still managed to craft a solid and at times stellar post-hardcore album keeping them comfortably ahead of their peers. The irresistible chorus of “That Fear Fever” harkens back to the instantly accessible “Casino Columbus” with an all too catchy vocal hook, album closer “27 Club” brings both ambition and aggression in equal measure on the album’s finest offering, whilst the soft acoustic guitar which lurks on the eerie “Virgin Dirt” is only superseded by the melancholic violin which sees the song out. The moments of brilliance which we've come to expect from the Los Angeles quintet are still delivered but they’re fewer and farther between, and Letlive force you to dig deeper and sieve further to unearth the nuggets of post-hardcore gold which lurk in the thick outer crust of The Blackest Beautiful.

Maybe even Daryl Palumbo was scared of facing up to Daryl Palumbo after Worship and Tribute, and maybe Head Automatica was his way of escaping the impossible task of following up a classic album. Although The Blackest Beautiful is full to the brim of Jason Aalon Butler's confidence, after Fake History it probably needed to be, and I'll take an "Empty Elvis" ahead of a "Beating Hearts Baby" any day of the year.


Track List:

1. Banshee (Ghost Fame)
2. Empty Elvis
3. White America's Beautiful Black Market
4. Dreamers Disease
5. That Fear Fever
6. Virgin Dirt
7. Younger
8. The Dope Beat
9. The Priest And Used Cars
10. Pheromone Cvlt
11. 27 Club

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