Letlive. – The Blackest Beautiful
Release Date: July 9, 2013
Record Label: Epitaph
You won't understand The Blackest Beautiful on your first listen. Sure, it's easy to excitedly praise new Letlive, but don't do these tunes a disservice - they're meant to be analyzed and absorbed, not tweeted or trended. This album holds a specific gravity; a weight that'll hold for years, offering new and exciting elements with every listen. Should you set aside the proper time and backdrops to digest the record, you'll find The Blackest Beautiful to be a modern day classic.
First, a few caveats: the album has a learning curve, was built for longevity, and may frustrate you. More importantly, understand those traits are coveted, because nothing worth having comes easy and all that cliché nonsense (you laugh now, but it's why you'll adore this record). Think of this as less review, more strategy guide. And please, hold your production complaints until the end, as they will be addressed.
Now get your first listens out of the way. Go admire Letlive's unmatched ability to make catchy choruses work organically within the heaviest of songs. Welcome back all that intensity from Fake History, but with the expected evolution earned over a three-year wait. Maybe the songs will stick with you from a single listen; maybe it'll take you quite a few chances, like it did with me. Regardless, we're not worried about your first impressions as much as your lasting opinion.
Now throw The Blackest Beautiful in your car stereo. My 10 or so spins on the road provided much more insight than my 15 listens in the office. Either buy the actual Compact Disc (which they're selling at Warped Tour) or burn your legally-obtained copy to physical; the old fashioned way just feels right here, along with its refreshing nostalgia. Then, just drive. Don't substitute whatever trendy shit you heard about on Tumblr - leave The Blackest Beautiful in your stereo and enjoy.
The short endeavors should instill appreciation for individual songs. You'll start by playing "Banshee (Ghost Fame)" with every errand, joining in with gang vocals, air-drumming those four huge chorus hits, and screaming your best Jason Butler at the steering wheel. Every song is chock-full of those tangible moments, from the aurally-appealing vocal lines ('that bootstrap theory,' 'a kitschy parody of sincerity,' and 'that ethnocentric home' come to mind) to the hard-hitting instrumentation (like the opening riffs to "Dreamer's Disease" and "The Dope Beat" - I've received countless stares rocking to those intros in my Scion). Every song on the record demands that participation and love from listeners, and you'll happily oblige.
You'll grasp the record's dynamics on longer drives. Fake History showed differentiation, though primarily succeeded with post-hardcore chaos. The Blackest Beautiful takes Letlive's taste for genre-flipping to new levels while changing tempos more frequently. From the heavy tracks' commotion to the eclectic "White America's Beautiful Black Market" to the electronic elements in "Younger," the band makes all their inspirations integral to The Blackest Beautiful while never straying past their potential or ability. Even if the breakneck speeds were your attraction to the band, you'll relish the contrast - it helps erratic tracks like "That Fear Fever" and "The Dope Beat" hit even harder.
Now throw The Blackest Beautiful on your headphones. Over-ear headphones, with the lyrics on your computer, in the highest quality format available (ripping at lossless is worth every bit of the 328 mb), with no other distractions. You processed the music's raw emotion earlier, but a focused listen will give context to the passion and unearth the record's depth.
Whether you agree with Butler's assessment of America or not, it's impossible to deny his fervent desire to inform and inspire. His presentation style and method should inform the uneducated and rally the masses, with good reason. Though his words touch on fairly specific issues, at their core, the basic truths behind his thoughts will resonate with all. For me, it was the chorus of "That Fear Fever" - the line 'there's a comfort in being scared, when you're the only one who dares to make the gun smoke black in a white washed town.' That line, along with several others, struck me and challenged me while never criticizing. Butler's ability to convoke emotions without preaching is unparalleled and enthralling, and is best understood through this focused listen.
Besides the lyrical benefits, headphones allow each song's complexity in structure to shine. No band does the pre-chorus or bridge better than Letlive, in creation and placement. That chorus melody of "Younger" may be the catchiest run on the record ('you and me are a kitschy parody...'), but the band backloaded the track by holding it until after the second verse, limiting your listens to a highly-accessible part.. The opposite works wonders on "White America's Beautiful Black Market," where the strong pre-chorus ('they say that bootstrap theory...") is absent from the final chorus, adding weight to a soft section that may have been overshadowed. Those intricacies go even deeper when accounting for Jason's usage of screams, yells, spoken word and singing, not to mention his unique choices in melody. As a result, mapping out poetic meters or rhyme schemes is a laughable task, and exactly what's so fascinating about Jason's delivery.
And about that production. I'm with you - the mix is muddy, the big moments need more pop, and the music feels less multi-channel stereo, more boombox - but that's Letlive, being Letlive. Label budget or not, every element of the production was completely intentional, despite being a barrier to entry. And in a weird way, it's endearing, as only Letlive could be. To reach the best version of themselves, I do think they'll need to work with someone (a McTernan or Yip, perhaps?) - but on The Blackest Beautiful, it works. Get past it, because these songs are incredible.
After those dedicated listens, you'll get it. Given the proper attention and respect, Letlive's The Blackest Beautiful will reveal itself as a masterpiece - a record that will redefine your musical preconceptions and tastes for the better. And if it doesn't strike that chord with you? You're probably not listening the right way.
That being said, no mention of Jason really channeling Michael Jackson in melody structure and vocal styling, coupled with the Stephen George's production assistance. It feels very, very intentional and I love that so much.
Listen to "The Dope Beat" and hear Jason's phrasing on "Now I don't know what to do / how to do it" and that "Come on UH" at 1:52.
So many little things about this album make it for me.
Can't wait for this to drop tommorow. Haven't listened to it all that much, been waiting for the physical release, but so far so good. It's different from fake histroy. Not sure if this will top fake history but it's pretty damn close. Great review.
I've been listening to this album an unhealthy amount over the past couple of weeks, but for me, it never loses it's intensity or emotion, and I intend to listen to it a lot more when I finally receive my copy and read the lyrics along with the music. In my opinion, this tops Fake History and I absolutely adore that album.
This is an amazing review, you did a really good job. I couldn't agree more with the paragraph on the production, I didn't think it wasn't bad at all, it contributes well to the whole atmosphere and feel of the album. I also thought that the production may have been an intentional move.
But yeah, good review and this is without a doubt one of my all time favourite albums, if not, my favourite.
I think this record is really awesome. The songwriting itself is great and invigorating, and I agree with you about the production being really bad but not so terrible it ruins everything. That said, I don't think I see the complexity in the album that this review/everyone seems attribute to it. For me it's just a passionate post-hardcore record. It's a really good one, but I don't think there's really anything super creative or ground-breaking.