Becoming stagnant and regurgitating the same material over and over is without question one of the worse things that a band can do, not just for themselves, but also for their fans. California’s letlive. have certainly kept themselves a fresh prospect in the post-hardcore market – breakthrough record ‘Fake History’ is often heralded as a modern classic – and if you’ve ever seen them live then you know that their passion, especially that emitted through the spectacle of frontman Jason Aalon Butler, is undeniably genuine and delivered in spades.
Now four records deep, ‘If I’m The Devil…’ on the surface would definitely come across as a less frantic and far more calm effort. Indeed, that’s because sonically it is, but what the band may have abandoned in jarring screams, walls of distortion and fast-paced rhythms, they’ve traded for unveiled messages of social and political malcontent that are serious issues plaguing nations and societies across the world today.
Lead single ‘Good Mourning, America’ focuses on racial oppression and police brutality, leading us in with a choir singing the song’s main hook. It’s built for radio despite its mentally engaging lyrical topic, and runs by the letlive. textbook we’ve become accustomed to. There’s something a little bit ‘They Don’t Care About Us’ by Michael Jackson about it, too.
We’ve also got ‘Another Offensive Song’, easily the heaviest track on the record, which is an unrelenting punk rock assault, again charging head on into an uncomfortable yet very important subject matter. In the closing chaotic moments, Butler roars “Your skin might get you shot / Who you fuck might get you shot / My big mouth will probably get me shot”, and he’s rightfully seething with conviction, as sadly the message rings with truth.
Instrumentally things are far more varied; ‘I’ve Learned To Love Myself’ leads us in with a passionate vocal delivery from Butler, the chorus hook of “I’ve learned to love myself / I’ve learned to love my self-abandonment” a nod to the same line in ‘Younger’ from 2013’s ‘The Blackest Beautiful’, before carrying us through to a crescendo of strings, ‘Nü Romantics’, ‘Foreign Cab Rides’ and the title-track gives a bit of breathing room for axe-man Jeff Sahyoun and bassist Ryan Jay Johnson, and Loniel Robinson‘s drum work for his first record as a part of letlive. is certainly commendable.
There’s a few downsides. ‘A Weak Ago’ comes across as a pretty lazy and mundane punk rock track by numbers that reeks of b-side material, and closer ‘Copper Colored Quiet’ is an extremely anti-climatic end to a record with such an important stance on today’s social and political climate, and it feels like a track with far more breathing room to evolve into something greater than the end product that we have.
Those expecting another letlive. album of the band causing insanity from start-to-finish may be disappointed, and it may not be the instant grab by the scruff of the neck as a result, but upon a few listens and attention to what is being discussed here, ‘If I’m The Devil…’ is without question a letlive. record through and through with longevity to boot. The post-hardcore tag is being shaken off, the “soul punx” ethos has never been more prominent, and, as uncomfortable as the subject matters may be, they’re ones that need to be discussed, addressed, and resolved. Live, and letlive.
Written by Zach Redrup (@zachredrup)