If I’m The Devil…
10th June 2016 – Epitaph Records
01. I’ve Learned To Love Myself
02. Nü Romantics
03. Good Mourning, America
04. Who You Are Not
05. A Weak Ago
06. Foreign Cab RIdes
07. Reluctantly Dead
09. Another Offensive Song
10. If I’m The Devil
11. Copper Colored Quiet
letlive. frontman Jason Aalon Butler recently gave an interview in which he was asked about the dearth of modern protest music, and whether he thought letlive’s music falls under that bracket. There can be no question that it does; fourth album If I’m The Devil…, itself a product of turmoil within the band over their musical direction, epitomises not only struggle and conflict, but Refused‘s nearly two decade-old blueprint for new noise in revolutionary soundtracks.
Some will accuse the Californians of mellowing. Certainly this may appear the case, with less focus on eye-bulging, openly-belligerent material as per their formative years, but such criticisms are missing the point. If I’m The Devil… is proof positive that you don’t have to scream your lungs out into a messy puddle on the floor to express your anger – you can offer up malcontent in a less heated, but no less meaningful way.
In fact, this may be the key that everyone’s been missing. In much the same way that a screeching toddler in the fits of a tantrum will be ignored, the apparent arms race of deafening objection within punk – more yelling, more distortion, faster beats – becomes easier to brush off the longer and louder it gets. letlive. take a different tack, and if you leave expectation at the door, you’ll encounter a breathtakingly soulful record that’s as dissenting as any other out there.
With brazen transparency, Butler tackles topics many seem happy to skirt around: racial discrimination (“Good Mourning, America“), neglect of the downtrodden (“Who You Are Not“) and humanising authority figures (“Reluctantly Dead“). It’s this last one in particular that supports the idea of a more mature letlive.; that people with power are still people, and that people fuck up.
That Butler’s father was a soul singer is unsurprising; Jason’s dissatisfaction is encapsulated, for the most part, in an incredibly expressive vocal performance. Behind much of it he sounds wounded – there is no doubt that this shit really matters to him – and it makes for an incredibly honest, open record. Tracks like “Foreign Cab Rides” and “Who You Are Not“ bleed naked emotion like a hole in the head, while the rare, openly hostile “Elephant” and “Another Offensive Song” – the latter particularly – bludgeon with the best from breakout album Fake History, threatening to upset bodies as well as minds.
As central as Butler is to the band, letlive’s instrumental trio are exactly that – instrumental. Itself fermented in a vat of squabbles, discord and rewrites, the music embodies rigor and attention to detail; it’s been honed to within an inch of its life. Even when stripped back to the barest of bones, as in the title track, there’s precision and variety in the composition. Strings make an appearance across the record, particularly in the opening and closing tracks, lending an air of grandeur to the record, whilst Ryan Jay Johnson’s tone-setting bass pops up across the album to lay down some serious groove at just the right moments, such as after the delicate opening bars of “Foreign Cab Rides“. Moments like these are both notable and noticeable in their placement; measured sonic architecture at its finest.
There may not have been a more important punk album in the last ten years. If I’m The Devil… is essential, epitomising protest music in a record of beautiful sincerity, whilst being wholly atypical of the genre. Highly charged, superlative and revolutionary, letlive. can be rightly proud of this release.