Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Letherette - Letherette


I take to the appearance of Wolverhampton-based duo Letherette, as I do most other two-piece producer/song-writer fusions. There's a niggling feeling that I get from such acts that I don't from solo ones. A feeling that, despite their repertoire for instrumental/experimental electronic music showing no sign of differentiation, makes me want to believe (conjure perhaps) the idea that things will be different. Maybe it's the pluralizing of artist 'members', maybe thus it's the belief that two minds, though thinking alike, come from the same self-stated excitement as bands like Air did for their debut LP, and are thus likely to add more to what is already a very emotively-rich, scene-setting context for electronics. That's not to discredit many of downtempo's other leading figures. But despite Ninja Tune's position as a label that not only accepts electronic music's more home-grown, home-influenced taste in sound, but promotes it valiantly via its young catalog of artists, the newest edition to the London label's sprung of post-millennium producers (both solo and duo alike) does come unfortunately with automatic assumptions of what we're likely to receive. Letherette however, have their early material to back them up. And following on from the duo's consecutively engaging string of EPs over the past few years, it's fitting that their debut self-titled LP sees them opening out even further into an atmosphere that is as much a sprawl with colour and personality, as it is modishly suited with emotion and tone.

After Dawn, in another time could simply have been a cautious, slow unveiling of wrapped-around texture and vocals that perhaps would be too scared or shy to offer themselves to the listener. Instead, the opening to Letherette's debut is a bold, brisk, confidence boost to what is already a proud compliance of sound as source material. There's as much a deeply-kept revealing of dialogue in the track's sweep of plush strings in equal portions to the track's sumptuous swell of guitars and synths. But it's the rhythmic components, the hi-hit house drums, the waving bass and even the spliced femininity of vocals, that offers the piece well-suited to both a club scene as much as there is a dream-scape one. D&T however pushes Letherette's soaking of the house music party, and gives the imagined crowd of such, exactly what they're screaming out for. Synths liven up in charged off-shoots, drumbeats are as much lively as they are well-placed. And overall the production measures allow plenty of room for each of these sounds to enjoy the positivity shrouding this track. Even the later star-flung glaze of electric guitars does nothing to disorientate the buzz of the music, if anything, it only compels the listener to even greater heights.

Restless could be taken as the album's personified stance reaching further into the enclosed alcove of nightly life - hand-clapping percussion and spacious textures of vocals and synths revealing and sealing the remnants of synthetic light and colour, acting as if one all-encompassed, draped curtain. But even with the track's in-and-out impulse to return to the dance-floor, the rich and flurried backing of tone add some deserved perspective to a piece that isn't entirely energized or swaying too far into ecstasy. And when the music leans, perhaps too far, back into what may designated a trope of downtempo music, I Always Wanted You Back makes sure that it's vocal focus and liquidizing synths are the ones committed to the role of scene-setting. The fluid, transient flow of the track in result not only avoids Letherette from falling into the trap of confining to lounge material, but it gives the track's nostalgic buzz of strings and beats a welcome sense of liberation and emotion. While Letherette's treatment of vocals doesn't exactly succeed the standard of this genre - and too acts more as just a textural layer in the production - the track The One makes sure that it's listener is less distracted by this effortless placement, and ends up excited rather by the synthesis of beats and tone thereafter. And excited is what I definitely feel myself succumbing to as the track soon descends into this lively, attitudinal rump of synthesizer crashes and sub-bass alike. Here, the music becomes ever more venturous and acting as if reaching for something: a goal, a means, a sense of achievement. While not entirely open or even revealing in its closing moments, it's the journey and the way the music doesn't give opportunity for pause, that grabs the listener. Thus, Letherette's use of percussion alongside these sounds, fulfills that previous objective of mixing the ecstasy of the club, with the imagination of the mind.

The second half of this album sees the duo take on a more investigative approach to their musical dialogue and sees an analogy coaxed with jazz, soul and some further reminiscences of the past. Cold Clam's treatment of string instrumentals and emotional fogs of sound definitely conjure a more sampled-thought ideology. while There's no love lost, truth be told, about the way Letherette combine these sounds - drums coming off more soaked into and attracted towards the ambiguity of keyboards and electric chords - but there's less a compelling nature to the way the track develops and lead us over time. It ultimately leaves us at a sort of emotional cross-road, neither developing our state of mind towards delight, nor does it offer any other real avenue for us to reach for. Likewise the track Warstones, even with its upbeat patterns and rhythmic charm of synthesizer hooks, comes off less developed and trajectory than its counterparts earlier on. What works for the duo however, even if this is in referral to individual components and not a completed piece of music, is their choice of instruments. It's their treatment of sounds through effect and later compilation atop other pieces to the Letherette puzzle, that is a stand-out. Boosted, for example, features a gorgeous ambiance of piano tone alongside its similarly-sourced samples; the other use of piano presenting itself as this solitary, free being able to transport itself in and out of the mix.

Another important benefit to Letherette's capable hands at electronic statistician, is when the synthesizers switch roles from drafters of texture, to setters of scenes and surroundings. Space Cuts, as its name alludes to, is a targeted momentum of futurist hues and human reaction against it. Synths buzz and sweep throughout the track, some low enough to conjure industrial imagery, others high enough that they might instate some kind of emotional detail. And all the while, the drumbeats and vocal choppiness alike keep to a sort of one-road lineage, neither distracting us from the electronic tones, while at the same time adding a depth of rhythm and scope to how far-flung and venturous this music really is. Hard Matha, that follows close behind, comes off as if attempting the same means of transport through its own conjured landscape, but doesn't exactly pull off the same level of effectiveness. The lighter treads of percussion are an intriguing variance on what has been a devoted focus on either mechanical or momentum-filling beats so far. But aside from the percussion - which near the end are pushed further to the front of the track - don't offer any real engaging atmosphere or detailed surroundings for which we're necessarily invited into. Closer Say The Sun, might refrain itself from returning to the energy of the dance-floor. But even in its downtempo apparel and slower pace, it ends up being one of the more interestingly, provoking tracks on the album. It's the slow, almost analogous relay of guitar caught mid-drift in the mix that gives the music a sort of hazy, half-awake presence. And while it doesn't feature as much as the other instrumental layers - the glazed synths, the mellow piano chords, the veiled vocal samples - the guitar's drifting casts a kind of shadow over the music - adding a kind of mystery or unattributed identity about both itself and the record's purpose for expression.

Downtempo experimentalism has conjured all sorts of interesting takes on emotion as of late. And while there have been some albums as of late that have come off lost in their own bliss, the key to Letherette's self-titled debut is its knowledge - as much as there is still a sense of discovery - of the joy and interest of the higher-moving reaches of electronic music. While there are still homages and references back to the past in conjuring a present state of emotion, what makes this album stand out is its confidence and its know-how in how to exercise one's self. Where even the surrounding scope is at its most chilling or its most undefined, Letherette still find a way to bring back a sense of material discovery about it. And when the music's visuals are all about the physical here-and-now - of the many thoroughly expectant crowds of the dance-floor or the disco - their sound is as much celebratory as it is a pleasing in its level of energy. As an album, though these sounds come off as branching into two ideals - the second-half not as engaging or defined as the first-half - that's not to say the later moments are without self-set reason and target. The duo's nestling in downtempo electronics does waver on the seen-before and, as a result, stand as dampening the excitement and buzz of previous. But even here, there is a sign of promise and meaningful pursuit in the production values. To call even these such spots the 'weaker' moments on this album shows just how well-sought this album is as a whole. To denote its 'stronger' parts therefore, should Letherette want to create mood and engagement, as you'll take in large parts of this record, it's a sound they achieve with compelling effect.
~Jordan

7.7

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