If you’re thinking I might be focusing too much on soul-punk representatives letlive. lately you have got a point. That is, three of my last four blogpost entail more or less specific hints and references to the L.A. four-piece, but to be completely honest with you all I just don’t seem to get enough. As already anticipated within this feature, on 10th June the post-hardcore outfit released their lengthy gestated fourth studio album If I’m the Devil…, and after two solid weeks of infinite listening I’m officially attempting a verdict at its impact. I explicitly waited a while to pen down some thoughts on it because lately I’ve found myself agreeing with a very intelligent reflection by online music media outlet Consequence of Sound about how hysterical races to publish album reviews are actually bad for music criticism, something I fully agree on and try to embrace myself, not least because it simply means lack of representativity, depth, and big picture angle. To be fair, one might as well argue that a two-week span still falls within the “too early” category applying to said thinking, yet I feel that for me it’s been enough time considering the amount of plays this record has already registered in my iPod.
Some stage setting could be useful in here before jumping into break downs of single tracks of the 45-minute long album released under Hollywood-based indie record label Epitaph Records. In fact, the job has pretty much been done by the label itself, who produced and released a wonderful documentary – shot mostly in London during letlive.’s latest UK tour and directed by Ryan Mackfall – shortly after If I’m the Devil…’s saw the light of day two weeks ago and that can be watched here. The documentary takes viewers behind the scenes of the record’s making, reflecting on both high and lows with ind-depth interviews with all band members telling it all about the album’s meaning and background. Additionally, on letlive.’s official bio page Epitaph also shared very interesting insights as to where exactly If I’m the Devil… came from:
“The album is the follow up to letlive.’s critically-lauded 2013 release, The Blackest Beautiful. And the time spent between that and 2016 are defined by the band’s engagement with the griot lineage of Saul Williams and Ta-Nehisi Coates, the deaths of Eric Garner and Mike Brown, the social pathologies that led to Ferguson, Missouri and divisive redlining policies that are functionally domestic terrorism. And with those ideas letlive. is a band that aims to bring political messages into rock music again. ‘Our music is very left-leaning. It’s very clear I have a large disdain for the way a lot of systems are working and our society’s incapability to unravel,’ front man Jason Butler states.”
…concluding with the following:
“Guitarist Jeff Sahyoun explains, ‘We collectively wanted the audio realm we have spent years creating to give birth to a digestible powerhouse of modern sound.’ It is a strident, principled and heavy studio work created by 4 uniquely creative individuals known for letting their passion unfurl onstage. Those who have witnessed a letlive. show can attest that it is a connective, reactive and provocative experience that transcends the standard band performance and stage/audience dynamic. That explosive energy and fury is fully expressed on If I’m the Devil… As Butler states, ‘I feel we’ve spent years developing the idea that is letlive. and with this record I feel we have finally developed the SOUND that is letlive…’.”
The record was anticipated by three of its most violent and angry cuts, although this being meant not necessarily sound-wise but rather more in their lyrical connotations: “Good Mourning, America“, brutally reflecting on recent sociopolitical and racial disorders in the USA while at the same time shouting for revolutionary claims of justice (cf. below frame pulled from its official music video), “Reluctantly Dead”, a chorus-heavy brick of a song that, once again, takes on a range of critical topics such as police brutality and individual self-abandon, and “Another Offensive Song”, the ninth track on the album’s tracklist and no doubt its heaviest and angriest one, possibly referring back to the band’s initial two albums and more raw times. This trio of tracks pretty much sums up the record’s overall sound and feel, a rare combination of anthems railing for social fairness, sonic violence aimed at raging against the machine, and introverted punky lullabies finding comfort and catharsis in one’s most intimate and personal spaces.
This very third topic is best expressed in “Who You Are Not”, surely among the catchiest tracks on the albums – alongside the grungy and Nirvana-evoking “A Weak Ago” – presenting some of the most melodic and radio-friendly vocals frontman Jason Butler has ever delivered. Similarly personal, intimate, and mature is sixth track “Foreign Cab Rides”, a brilliant confessional slow-burner in which Jason reflects on the relationship with his wife and even contains an actual voicemail recording between the two at the beginning. Calls for social justice, equality, and reactionism against disenfranchisement come back at their shiniest with the two album closers, title-track “If I’m the Devil…” and “Copper Colored Quiet”, two songs that quickly find themselves borrowed as rebellious and solidarity-invoking anthems wonderfully wrapping up the sociopolitically-filled undertones of the effort as a whole.
A special mention is due to the second track on the album, “Nü Romantics”, which follows the climaxing grand opening of “I’ve Learned to Love Myself” investing heavily in guitars and an inherent wall of sound. The thing with “Nü Romantics” though is not only that it’s beautifully structured with an unusual and unexpected break just 1:49 minutes in (of the total 3:36), but said interruption also feels as necessary as pleasant to the ears, navigating through minimal echoed guitar sounds ramping up a multi-layered chorus launching the track into a literal explosion in its last minute. Also, as far as Jason Butler’s lyrics and vocal job go, this one might be one of letlive.’s finest, although apparently it being performed live can turn into a little play with fire, for even the smallest deviation from its stinging and thin melodic line can sound quite off and overwhelming. Yet, the overall impression from the record is that with this effort the soul punkers really did try to challenge themselves both sonically and lyrically, pushing boundaries way out of their comfort zone. In this regard, one would have to agree that most of the times this is exactly where self-development and growth can find their shelter and flourish. The only hope is that this approach is to be undertaken not just by the band but also by a too often ill-advised and ignorant world at large.
I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.
“IF I’M THE DEVIL…”