Letlive. - “If I’m The Devil…”
Buy on iTunes or through Epitaph Records
Letlive is a post-hardcore band hailing from Los Angeles, California that has made a name for themselves for their intense live performances and deep messages that have truly left a huge impression on many fans of all sorts of hardcore worldwide. Despite starting in 2002 and having an EP and LP under their belt before 2010, they really did not gain recognition in the hardcore community until their sophomore LP Fake History dropped in 2010, and it’s pretty understandable why. Their music, while not lacking for energy and a message, was surely not very mature, and it seems like the band knew this. There was a whole five years between their debut, Speak Like You Talk, and Fake History. In that span of time, you can certainly hear all the improvements. Vocalist Jason Aalon Butler’s range and lyrical content only expanded, and the entire instrumental behind letlive. completely changed, which you can hear from LP to LP. To make a longer story brief, Fake History is pretty much an entirely different letlive. than the one previously known for Speak Like You Talk, and I think it’s safe to say most would agree it’s for the better. I would even go a step further and say that Fake History is the pinnacle of post-hardcore.
After releasing this LP, letlive got a record deal with Epitaph Records, a label run by Bad Religion guitarist Brett Gurewitz and also known for signing some of the biggest bands in modern hardcore and metal music, including Bring Me the Horizon, Saosin, Every Time I Die, Converge, and many more. Three years after Fake History, letlive. recorded and released The Blackest Beautiful, which more or less had the same lineup from Fake History minus Anthony Rivera, who left the band prior to recording. They hired a studio drummer to fill in. Many praised the LP at initial release, but after a few months, even I got quite critical of the LP. I don’t really blame the band for anything. In terms of music, the LP is pretty much what you would want from letlive. Hell, it even has some of my favorite songs from the band, including “Dreamer’s Disease” and “27 Club.” However, what bothers me immensely about the LP is its production. I don’t really know what went wrong here, but some of these songs have parts that are almost unlistenable to me because the production just gets so bad. I think a lot of it is that the instrumental feels so background sometimes, especially on songs like “Virgin Dirt,” where the instrumentals feel like white noise. This really annoys me because I feel like Fake History is one of those LPs where everything is balanced to perfection, but on The Blackest Beautiful there are just some moments that really could’ve had better production.
No matter the criticisms I have for The Blackest Beautiful, one thing that has always remained in letlive.’s music is their passion, which is completely visible in their live performance. You can watch video compliations on YouTube of Jason Aalon Butler being an absolute animal on stage as many times as you want, but NOTHING compares to actually viewing it with your own eyes. I saw them do a 30-minute set at AfroPunk in Brooklyn last summer and it was by far one of the best sets I have ever seen in my life, and that’s going against the competition they had that day (including Death Grips and Suicidal Tendencies), and the many live acts I have seen in my life (Iron Maiden, The Ocean, The Dillinger Escape Plan, etc.). They played an untitled song that I fell in love with at that show, but due to the problems I had with The Blackest Beautiful, I had my worry that the song wasn’t going to be as good on record. Fast forward eight months, and the song drops under the title “Good Mourning, America.” I’m going to save my full opinion the song for the actual review, but I got fucking pumped the moment I gave it a full listen. It wasn’t the typical hardcore letlive. that I knew from their previous releases, but it also sounded nothing short of amazing. Soon enough, we’d get another single, “Reluctantly Dead,” which was certainly a softer side of letlive, much like the one shown on tracks like “Muther.” Then we got “Another Offensive Song,” which reminded me much more of the letlive. on Fake History with some more vibrant influences - kind of like The Blood Brothers meets Rage Against the Machine, if you can imagine. Now the LP has officially dropped, and with those three songs we also get an extra eight songs. So what’s the verdict? Does it meet the standards I had set for letlive. set by Fake History, or is it just another The Blackest Beautiful?
From one full listen to the LP, you can tell one thing for sure: letlive is NOT focused on making an LP of relentless hardcore anymore. If you go into this LP expecting a sequel to Fake History, you will be heavily disappointed. There’s certainly moments where letlive. uses their hardcore influence, but “Another Offensive Song” is the only full-on hardcore song here. Otherwise, we have a wide variety of genres maingrounded in the rock genre. However, this shouldn’t really be news to anyone. Even if there was slightly more hardcore on The Blackest Beautiful, you cannot say a song like “White America’s Beautiful Black Market” or “That Fear Fever” are hardcore songs. This was a path that letlive. have been going down for quite a while, and I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad path. It was only the production I was against on The Blackest Beautiful. I liked the music. On If I’m the Devil..., letlive. seem to increase the production quality while taking away a little hardcore to add in other influences. I am not against this concept at all. In fact, the wide variety of song ideas and influences is why I love this LP as much as I do.
“I Learned to Love Myself” is a rather soft introduction for a letlive. LP. It starts off with a very eerie acoustic guitar, with Jason Aalon Butler seeming to question his family life. One of my immediately favorite letlive. lyrics comes as soon as the song starts to pick up in terms of heaviness: “Although our brother is sleeping with our greatest enemy we still love him like we did when we were kids.” When I first began analyzing this song, I thought this was in reference to Jason’s brother, who I discovered is a cop. Especially with the lyric that comes up about his brother screaming if he could love him. However, the word “our” seems to undercut that, and if it is about police in any way, it could be about how divided we all are in recent times, especially with the Black Lives Matter vs. All Lives Matter movements getting a bit violent. Either way, I found the line very intriguing, and it’s certainly one of the lyrics I thought the hardest about. The rest of the song is pretty heavy on emotion nevertheless, with an orchestra accompanying the rock instrumental. This song leads right into “Nu Romantics,” which really picks up the pace of this LP.
Much like the previous song, I also certainly see this as a song about justice. It seems that Jason is being the voice for those fighting for equal rights, and the lazy “lady” in question is Lady Justice. Jason gets heavily into the subject, eventually stating how he feels this “fantasy” of more equality is starting to fade away. The instrumental is much faster and angrier than the track before, which really boosts the message of this song. This track is here to show that, while letlive. may not be the hardcore band they were in the past, they still have the punk edge to them their fans fell in love with. We are then led into lead single “Good Mourning, America,” which continues this concept of fighting for equal rights and is very focused on the idea of police brutality and abuses of power. This song seems to show the perspectives of both the authority figures and the “lesser man”: the authority figure threatens to kill the lesser man if he tries to stand against him, but the lesser man, questioning whether the authority deserves his power, all but spits in his face with questions like, “What’s your body count today?” It’s very clear why letlive. chose this song as the lead single: it’s a middle ground for people who are in love with 2010 letlive. people in love with this more varied letlive. It really feels like this is the song that’s supposed to get people to decide whether they want to listen to this LP in full or just give it a pass. It certainly interested me.
The next song is “Who You Are Not,” which is the first song that breaks the album’s narrative. This song seems to also push the theme of equal rights, especially with its chorus of “We might be the same, but if we don’t notice, we might be okay.” There’s also a lyric about how everyone wants to “touch the sun,” but how he’s the only one who “gets burned for fun,” implying that he’s willing to suffer if it means he can live more decently. This song has much more of an alternative rock approach, with many layers of voices during the chorus meant to be shouted along with at concerts. Letlive. does show more of their commercial side on this song, but it really works out to their benefit in the end. Next up is “A Weak Ago,” which is quite the interesting song for letlive. Lyrically, it seems to be about a “privileged” individual with a mental disorder, whose peers tell this person that they can’t possibly feel like crap because they’ve “got it all.” Jason also later brings up how nobody wants to help you until you’ve “got it all,” leaving you in a lose-lose situation. Towards the end, Jason’s character pretty much ends up screaming in frustration. Instrumentally, this is a very interesting song because it’s quite funk in addition to heavy. I certainly hear a bit of Rage Against the Machine, and there is an effect on Jason’s vocals during the verses that really matches with the instrumental. Certainly one of letlive’s most ambitious attempts in terms of style, and I really dig it.
“Foreign Cab Rides” is debatably one of letlive’s softest and most emotional songs, at least for the majority of the song. It seems as if the character in this song is either died or dying, listing off his regrets while also hoping someone will “stay” with them. The song breaks into a heavier part where Jason’s character starts to get much more angry with themselves, nicely leading into “Reluctantly Dead,” which is another song about the abuse of power. This is very noticeable in the chorus, which brings up how you may believe “they” are here to protect and serve, yet the law “results in death” now. This song is much more in the style of “Muther,” which is why I believe they released this song as a second single, so Fake History fans could relate.
Continuing letlive’s political message is “Elephant,” one of the shorter, more punk-edged songs of the LP, lyrically depicting an elephant filling up an entire room, cutting off Jason’s air. He notes that “the whole room” doesn’t want him to breathe, but since it’s really the elephant in the room, and not the room itself, that’s suffocating him, we know the elephant that doesn’t want him to breathe. This brings to mind the authority figure vs. lesser man conflict of “Good Mourning, America,” where the authority purposely suppresses the lesser man. While “the elephant in the room” is an obvious reference, I feel like letlive. is taking a jab at the Republican Party here, since the symbol of the Republican Party is an elephant. Whether this was intentional or not, I feel obligated to bring it up because it made me chuckle quite a bit.
Either way, this song leads into the only hardcore song on the LP, “Another Offensive Song,” which is truly the wet dream of any Fake History-era letlive. fans. This song is absolutely insane. Everything about it is just fucking angry. Even though I completely support their progress into different musical territories, hearing this song really got me fucking pumped because it’s one of those songs that makes you just want to break everything in front of you the second it starts. I remember seeing a few posts about the song’s “anti-PC” message when it was first release, which I thought was kind of funny, because this song actually seems to target the people who complain that everything is too PC, including the Black Lives Matter movement. The chorus even mentions that, no matter how much proof you give these people, they refuse to look at it. The ending of this song is especially fucking intense, with Jason screaming how you can get shot for shit you can’t change, including race and sexual orientation, as well as for speaking out against authority. He dares you to kill him, mocking those who don’t take his cause seriously. “Another Offensive Song” is not targeted towards people who are “too PC”: it’s targeted towards people who refuse to listen to the so-called “social justice warriors” because they’re “too sensitive” and think their movement isn’t important. Those are the people who will be looking at this song and saying it is, indeed, another offensive song.
After this, we are brought directly into the title track of this LP, which is its most emotionally affecting song. It just builds and progresses the further you get into the song, and each moment just feels more and more intense. It takes on the idea of privilege, bringing up how the people afraid of these socially-fueled movements are out there calling these angry protesters names, which in this case is “the Devil.” Jason then states in the chorus that if you call the protesters “the Devil,” you’re the reason they will die or “give themselves away,” but in the reverse situation, these privileged will make sure the movement the protesters support cannot be put, as Jason describes it, “on display.” This song builds similar to “One of Us is the Killer” on The Dillinger Escape Plan LP of the same name, despite being nowhere near as heavy. It’s certainly much heavier towards the latter half of the song, but it doesn’t really ever go super punk. Jason yells a bit, but that’s as much hardcore as you’re going to get on this song. Nevertheless, it’s five of the best minutes of this LP, period. It summarizes pretty much everything this LP stands for, acting as a final stand to get the importance of these issues through the heads of those who don’t understand the message. On top of this important message is a beautifully constructed instrumental. We are then brought to the finale of this LP, “Copper Colored Quiet”, which is an interesting choice for letlive: they usually seem to close out with an absolute banger, but this is the only song on the LP that doesn’t really get heavy. On Fake History, we had “Day 54,” which ended the LP with one of the most emotional breakdowns I have ever heard from a band. The Blackest Beautiful, had “27 Club,” a 7-minute hardcore song that dealt with suicide, ending with another really emotional breakdown section. However, on If I’m the Devil..., we end with a song that sounds like the epilogue to a long, epic story. The instrumental is very quiet, backed by a beautiful orchestra, and Jason seems to accept that how there’s a chance nobody will take his message seriously. That’s alright with him, since the movement will be there to watch as our world burns. Despite never breaking out into typical letlive., I feel like this is the perfect way to closed out an LP like this one. Sure, it feels more like an outro than an actual song, but it’s an amazing outro. The track before seems to summarize Jason’s points, but this one asks if you are ready to join him in making sure our future is a brighter one.
After multiple listens to this LP, I think If I’m the Devil... is meant to clarify letlive’s sociopolitical stances, backed by some incredible instrumentals. I was waiting to hear what Loniel Robinson would contribute to the band since he was introduced, and I am happy to say he completely kills it on this LP. Ryan Jay and Jeff Sahyoun contribute just as much as they have since Fake History as they kill it on the stringed instruments. The orchestral arrangements across the album might be a turnoff to some, but I think it fuels the emotion the LP is striving for. However, as with all of letlive.’s output, the highlight (for me, at least), is Jason Aalon Butler himself. Whatever problems I may have had with letlive in the past, none of them ever have to do with him, and he is absolutely at the top of his game on this LP. Sure, his vocals aren’t very hardcore here, but boy does he make up for it in range. I cannot think of another vocalist who sounds so perfect across such a wide variety of sounds: from the softest of moments on “Foreign Cab Rides” to the absolutely bonkers “Another Offensive Song,” Jason’s voice never feels awkward or out of place. All the production problems are fixed here as well. While Jason is my favorite part of letlive, I was very annoyed with how much more upfront he was than everything else on The Blackest Beautiful. The instrumentals no longer blend together like they did on that album, and on top of that, they have gotten all their influences in the right place on here. They had said in interviews that they were conflicted as a band about what they wanted to do on If I’m The Devil…, but I think it’s safe to assume they have found a way to make everything work to its fullest potential.
I fucking love this LP and everything about it - I don’t really have any nitpicks for it, proof of how much I love it. Fake History will always have a special place in my heart, but I can now say this one does as well. Many will not appreciate this LP because it’s not the letlive. they are use to, and that’s perfectly fine, but I recommend this to anyone who wants a kickass rock LP for the summer.