The album begins. You first hear the lazy buzz of a faulty instrument cable somewhere in the mix. The band then drag themselves into what seems to be a rather flawed opening to an unknown track. Your first reaction is likely to be “Oh… oh god, the production on this is terribl-“ STOP. Give it until around 35 seconds into the opening track… Got it? Familiarise yourself with the feeling the resultant burst gives you, like the feeling of twelve Orchid plants wrapped around a football-sized rock travelling at 70 miles per hour and colliding with your guts. That is LetLive. You’re going to be feeling a lot of that from this point.
LetLive are a five-piece post-hardcore band out of LA, California and their third full length album The Blackest Beautiful was dropped on 9 July 2013 under Epitaph. The record’s sound takes cues primarily from pioneers of the post-hardcore genre such as Glassjaw and Every Time I Die’s The Big Dirty but also from more diverse stretches, displaying elements of rap and hip hop. A large part of their composition stems from front man Jason Aalon Butler’s vocal delivery throughout the record. Emotive, blunt and highly distinctive, Butler’s mixture of screaming, rapping and singing adds layers to the album mix like no other vocalist could. Frankly, this setup is perfect for them – right down to the grainy, gritty, indented tone which may be mistaken for bad production. Make no mistake, my friends, what you are hearing was laid out for you as carefully as a landmine; every twinge in the guitars, every misplaced hihat strike, each one of Butler’s coughs or sobs or grunts. It’s all supposed to be there, in plain sight, to be scrutinised and figured out. If anything, a criticism may be that the record is in danger of sounding overproduced but it manages to avoid this by enforcing the power of each of the tracks, the intricate rhythm sections and the complexity of each of the presented messages. Either way, the album is a feast for hungry headbangers looking for something to sink their brain-teeth into.
Getting down to the tracks – the main players on this record (for me) are ‘Banshee (Ghost Fame)’, the fanfare opener, ‘The Dope Beat’ and ’27 Club’, the closing track. Having said this, in a perfect world I’d say every single track in the first half of the record was a main player. I’d actually love to sit here and pick apart every song, but this album is an island. It wants you to discover it and form your own views, find your own secret places and relish in their existence.
‘Banshee (Ghost Fame)’ is an immense opening choice for the album and sums up the entire sound of the band. The lyrics seem to encompass what is undoubtedly the target for this outburst of sound for the whole record – the shortcomings of the Western civilisation, specifically American culture. “We drove a hearse into the crowd and took the willing/A leap of faith with a foot on the ground to wait for you/When they say “Go”, I will say “No”.” This occurs to me to be a commentary on (and a criticism of) the military decisions the USA has made in the last decade and the willingness of the American general public to swallow and rejoice in the bitter pill dolled out to them by their government.
From the thrashing chorus to the undercurrent of the verses, the submerged feel of the drums and bass tones is very easy to detect. This is a feature which is continuous throughout the tracklist and it is left open to debate why that particular decision was made by members of the production team. Whatever the reason, it does not seem to diminish the impact of the percussion section in this song. Drummer Lionel Robinson exhibits his technical prowess in the track, in that he has complete control over the very mood of each bar in the song. Adding or subtracting a snare hit somewhere in each section can completely alter its personality and that is a situation some musicians work their whole lives to achieve.
‘The Dope Beat’ is often introduced live as a dedication to “those who think true punk is still alive”. This track is fast. It gives the impression of someone running which often swells into walls and waves of indeterminable size and unlimited strength. The lyrics seek to criticise those who consider themselves completely opposed to the Western social structure and all their subdivisions, offering paradoxes such as “I started a fire, burnt down my house, now I’ve got nowhere to call home”. To me, this says “Your general hatred is unsustainable. You can’t say that all humans are assholes and then exclude yourself”.
The track contains an interesting section around 2:38 which serves as a display of lead singer Butler’s goofiness where he seems to lose himself in each resurgence of the breakdown. He screams in delight at each second beat of each bar and shouts excitedly to an unassigned entity, “Listen, listen like… Oh my god, waitwaitwait, one more time…” Whether this is supposed to fit in with the previous idea of ridicule or is simply just Butler expressing his excitement for the composition is unclear, but moments like this are littered all over the tracks and are what makes each listen-through a fucking joy.
The album’s closing track is the mental finale known as ’27 Club’. The track explores the eclipsing of a personal and private connection to something higher than one’s self by the fear of judgement by religious peers and American popular culture. We open with a sharp guitar chord hammered onto the fret board which is then bent across the frets and repeated to form the 6/4 time signature that opens the track up. This simple trick is perhaps itself symbolic of the way something so definite and concrete as love can be stretched and misconstrued by those who want to control it within others. After interrogating the subject matter with lyrics such as “They say there’s so such thing as an atheist in a foxhole/I’m trying to be a god damned believer but the road to heaven’s full of potholes”, Butler, at the end of the track, seems to let his true feelings on the situation roll out in a downbeat section over which he narrates, saying “We’ve got an army for us versus them, except it’s not us versus them. It’s just us, my friend.” This section reflects on the blindness of people who insist on finding ways of dividing and segregating others and turning them against one another. A poignant observation on their part. This track is also, interestingly, the song which opens their current live set and it fits phenomenally, a testament to the versatility of the tracklist.
The Blackest Beautiful is one of those albums that keeps on giving with every run-through. The listener might not ‘get it’ first time round, but the composition is complicated and intricate enough that you find something new with every repeat. LetLive’s first break into recognition came along with the release of their previous album Fake History and I’d consider their most recent release to be a massive refinement of style for the outfit. Considering this, I’d be confident in saying that LetLive are only going to get bigger for the time being and honestly, it couldn’t happen to a more deserving group. These guys have their sound sorted now, they know where they’re headed and great things are on the bill.
P.s. This is an album review so I shouldn’t really be slipping this in here, but DO NOT miss a chance to see them live. They played the Pepsi Max stage at Download Festival 2014 and were, en mi opinion, by far the best performance of the weekend. This is bucket list stuff, people. GET IT DONE.
Words by Matt Gibbons