Letters Letters - s/t [Type - 2007]
Letters Letters are a trio based out of Montreal consisting of Mitchell Akiyama, Tony Boggs and Jenna Robertson. Though Akiyama has worked with each artist in the past, this is their first collaboration as a trio. The album resists pigeonholing because it takes several different approaches to songwriting. The unifying factor is the production, which is somewhat unique; almost all of the instruments, and vocals for that matter, sound close-mic'ed and over-driven. The instrumentation consists of analog synths (I'm assuming, that's what it sounds like), acoustic and electric guitars, hand percussion, and possibly some real cymbals and drums. The over-driven production is not over the top, as you may imagine. It's gauzy and reverb drenched. You could tag it as post-rock if you wanted to over-simplify, I suppose.
The album starts off with Favorite Hands, which gets thing moving with a noisy, feedback and reverb intro. A simple keyboard riff enters the mix after about a minute or so, after which electronic beats and roaming, non-melodic vocals by Tony Boggs complete the picture. Boggs' vocals are quavering, a bit whiny, and fraught with anxiety. And though this sounds like a major detraction, Boggs' manages to tailor his vocals to match the feel of each tune.Therefore, on successive listens, you realise that there's a method to his madness.
The next track, We'll Make Our Home is the first track to feature acoustic guitar, and it's not presented in the typical neo-folk style. The vocals are much more straightforward than the first track, though no less pained, but the addition of backing vocals adds some warmth to the otherwise tension-filled song. Everyone's Afraid of Fear takes off on what might be considered a funk riff, driven again by acoustic guitar. Jenna Robertson's vocals, though they are delivered in a tone very similar to Boggs', are nonetheless distinctive. Her breathy, yet tough sound adds texture, giving the album a much needed change of pace. And so it goes. The rest of the album has a similar approach as far as the music goes, with minor variations.
As far as the lyrics go, the subject matter deals with sex, drugs, and paranoia. It may be a reach to make this supposition, but the lyrics, at least in part, give the impression that the implied theme has to do with the current climate of fear generated by the media, and by the current doings of our inept and corrupt world leaders. The way that this anxiety is dealt with, is in many cases with medication, and hibernation. The feeling of claustrophobia, of hiding from the crushing weight of reality, is a pervasive element within this album. So if you take the subject matter of the lyrics, the fragility of the vocals and the nervous edginess of the music, the big picture begins to appear. Letters Letter's debut (or one off, maybe?) is undeniably difficult listening at times, but it's more than a moderate success. Erwin Michelfelder