Friday, June 4, 2010

The Better Letters on 4:3 Records.


The Better Letters from down the way Brooklyn have been playing out and around the neighborhood lately and just recently let me know about their single out on 4:3 records.

This is a great sleeve, that ultra designed band logo and minimalist photo in an artists studio of high school chairs with speakers built into the backrest. The reverse side has a hint of chairs legs and splattered paint floor with the track names. Could this band have roots in art school? Well, there's at least 5 art schools in NYC, probably 20-30,000 art students...that's a lot of bands. I'm only bringing that up because of the strong Talking Heads connection which started in...well, art school of course. Art Schools should capitalize on this already...start having studios with mixers and PA systems and have bands play at openings...it's happening already...just charge the parents or state for another credit in 'art band 101'.
The A-Side 'That's not all' has an overall nervous energy... the post punk kind with stuttered guitar strumming. Super quick bursts of chords match Joe Palumbo's vocal delivery, his staccato high register syllables that inflect off the end of the sentence...resulting in an un-singalong-able verse. They're little aural punches, the weird oversize suit kind, psycho killer punches. The jerky chicken movement....it's frantic, a little unnerving, not even necessarily lining itself up to be danceable, like !!!, it's got that energy, but not going in for the easy hooks...I like the fighting metaphor...they jab around waiting, not to knock you out ever, just poke around until you go down...
Just hearing this arty new wave melody and the word 'television' in a song really takes m back to the 80's when TV was just starting to be drug of the nation. MTV was just starting to play videos, but maybe it was the threat of all of cable TV that just seemed to be too much for suburban society. The pure sound of music was threatened by the increasingly more important image that bands had started to exploit and parents just couldn't compete with this always entertaining 24 hour force. Hey isn't 4:3 the aspect ratio of TV?

It's all hearkening back to that Reagan nuke cold war era...which was the jumpy almost apocalyptic new wave or the other way around...I don't know which was the chicken or the egg in that case.
But in 2010 it's an era of 'Hope' © after all and how does this challenging pop influenced sound translate now? It's a descendant of that Clap Your Hands lineage, (in retrospect they might have just happened upon that combination of new wave nerves and indie guitar that worked by accident, and there was no follow up. I'm not sure). But this sounds a little more unemotional...dare I say they get into Devo territory even...or the Units? It's hard not to come up with David Byrne in this case, and they are pulling that mid 80's Talking Heads sound off perfectly, and it'd coming from that cold place...or maybe just objective place. We don't have any feelings because we're those girls in the back of the Addicted to love video. Making money like American Psycho...pure paranoia. No wonder there is that hoarding show on Bravo.

'Container' raises the post-everything bar adding plinky keys to the epileptic changing jangly thin electric thin, barley amplified sound. I would even bring up the Futureheads self titled. It's that same feeling, layered unusual phrasing...pure art school...appropriate weird stuff, the influences mash together, but a willingness to experiment in that genre and take it to a further place. Put down that sculpture degree and pick up a guitar...

Another clue to the art school background is the nice website, they obviously took a web design class somewhere, and you can preview both of the tracks from the single there and purchase the vinyl, or better yet pick up a copy your own bad self watching them live this Sunday at the Bell House in Brooklyn.

The Better Letters are a fitting name for a band that considers each note, each phrase, and each chorus as carefully as its five members. The perfect antidote to the run-on sentence, the band’s short, sweet, never self-indulgent reinvention of jittery, late 70’s punk will make you want to get up and dance. On the Brooklyn, five-piece’s first 7-inch (4:3 Records), songwriter/guitarist/vocalist, Joe Palumbo’s nervous, wailing vocals (reminiscent of David Byrne or Mark Mothersbaugh) ground angular guitars, traveling bass lines, and organ-like synth sounds. While The Better Letters most immediately evoke bands like Devo or the Talking Heads, the less overt garage and soul influences make them sound more like The Make-Up on a meth bender. The band came together about a year ago (early 2009), when Abe Something and former sh-sh-sh-Shark Attack! guitarist Joe Palumbo teamed up to play Palumbo’s songs. Shortly afterwards, they were joined by Ben Brunnemer (former sh-sh-sh-Shark Attack!) on guitar, Sunset Jones on bass guitar, and Steve Goldberg (former Organized Sports) on drums. The band’s 7” inch was recorded by Jason LaFarge of Seizures Palace Recording (Devandra Banhart, Angels of Light, Khanate, Akron/Family) and can be purchased at www.thebetterletters.com.

by Jennifer Bassett

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