Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Letterpress

April 4, 2004

If you randomly heard the Letterpress while in a music store, you probably wouldn’t think anything of it. “It’s just another understated indie-rock band,” you might even comment. It’s possible, because until you know what the Letterpress is actually accomplishing, it doesn’t come off as anything brilliant.

The Letterpress is a band composed of vocals, drums, and two bass guitars. No electric guitars in this mix at all. The fact that The Letterpress can make music that would pass for smooth, hypnotic, guitar-based indie rock with only two basses is a spectacular achievement.

The basses intertwine with a fluidity that doesn’t convey how hard it must have been to create such a complicated and varied group of songs. Sometimes they act as one guitar, as in the title track “Input/Output”; sometimes they work together to create interesting harmonies (“Closer & Distant”, “Hanging in the Stars”); sometimes they contrast each other for dramatic effect, as in the best track here, “Launch Sequence”. “Launch Sequence” not only features the best riff that is present here, it also has a brilliant tempo change that sets it apart from all other songs here.

There is a point, though, where we have to distinguish novelty factor from actual musical ingenuity. While this is an extremely creative idea, and the music is good, “Input/Output” sounds like a lot of other subdued indie rock. The members have expertly imitated electric guitars without actually playing electric guitars, but they imitated a little too well. At points, I could’ve sworn I was listening to Mae (Jeremy Drysdale’s vocals are a dead ringer for Mae’s David Gimenez’s). I also felt a lot of ‘where have I heard that riff before?’ moments.

But on the positive side, I can not say that they are not immensely talented. This is an extremely groundbreaking album, and that’s not something you can say very often in today’s musical scene. If this review is remembered, I hope it’s remembered for the good points, and not the bad ones, because I really like this album. When their sound develops more, they will be a force to be reckoned with.

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Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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