Following the glowing reviews London-based songwriter and film composer Chris Letcher received for his debut album Frieze (2007) and EP Harmonium (2008), Letcher now releases his full-length follow up, Spectroscope.
Recorded and mixed in London by Finn Eiles (My Bloody Valentine, Jack Penate, Razorlight), Letcher’s new album extends his use of lush orchestration. Bass clarinets, string and brass sections, mbiras and singing saws enfold drum machines and 1970s synthesizers to buttress an album of literate pop songs.
Each song on Spectroscope is conceived as a separate ‘band’ on a spectrum that runs from hooky pop song structures (‘The Sun! The Sun!’, a snare-and-kick-driven kind of ‘We Will Rock You’, albeit in a 7/4 time-signature) to more abstract compositions with less conventional structures or instrumentation. ‘One Died’, for example, is a setting of Robert Berold’s poem of the same name for voice and overdriven ‘tack’ piano, harmonically and structurally more adventurous than anything on Letcher’s previous records.
Letcher’s roots in South Africa are also more evident on this record. He uses a pair of ‘interlocking’ mbiras (or ‘thumb pianos’, one in the left speaker, one in the right) as the basis for a reworking of a fragment of Bill Callahan’s masterpiece ‘I’m New Here’. This ‘hocket’ technique found in many types of African music — where melody lines emerge from a weave of two or more separate but interlocking parts rather than from a single lead solo instrument — is also present in the coda of ‘The Loneliest Air’, and in the intertwining pair of clarinets on ‘You Only Had to Point’.
Chris Letcher, “Phone Booth” (download)