The Better Letters – “Mixed Feelings”

Hannah Marney’s take on this upcoming Brooklyn based indie-pop group’s debut LP

Guest Writer

out of 10

The Better Letters
Mixed Feelings
June 17, 2011
4:3 Records

Sometimes you pick a genre and stay in it, but what is the fun in that? The Better Letters haven’t settled one. My first impression of this Brooklyn based group on their newest album, Mixed Feelings? It’s like the 60’s soul, 70’s funk and 80’s new wave had a three headed child. A self fulfilling prophecy in it’s title for sure, as I can’t say it is the best I’ve heard in a mixed genre sense, but it certainly shows much potential in this group.

“Short Term Memory” starts it off with a bass line made for dancing. A bit of throwback to disco? Most definitely. Joe Palumbo’s vocals seemed strained in the higher ranges, which he seems to favor. I find it detracts from the songs sometimes. When he lowers his range, I think it does songs more justice. I can’t deny that the guitar and synth work win every time for me. On repeat listens the chord progressions reminds me a lot of early Franz Ferdinand, around the Darts of Pleasure EP, though it does not seems as manic. This really shows best on “Car Wreck”. Ben Brunnemer and Joe Palumbo vibrate disco through their fingers without complicating it. They go for a cleaner sound and I think that is what pays off best on the album. The female back vocals are not distracting, there is some great trumpet and Palumbo’s vocals are at comfortable octave to still allow that earnest desperate edge without sounding like it is strained. When he does go higher later on in the song, this time it sounds emotional, not just reaching for something that isn’t in his range.

The Better Letters call themselves a pop band and perhaps that is the best definition one can find. They grab the best of several decades. This band is making music you could dance to, but there is something a bit off. Maybe that is a good thing in some ways. On repeat listenings, it becomes more danceable, but still seems to fight something in itself. It’s that contrast that kept pulling me in.

“Take What You Need” sounds like a punk song just in title and it fits the bill, bringing in some great synth and a guitar that echoes the 60’s surf sound when it has a dirtier edge. There is a Talking Head imitation that can’t be denied on this one, but it doesn’t ruin the effect.

One thing that stick with me on repeat listens is that production wise I feel the vocals are not as balanced on all the songs. Sometimes the female vocals work for me and sometimes they seems a little too B-52s without Fred Schneider’s to match it and contrast it.

The lyrics are solid, but easily forgotten as the music takes them over.  One song conquers that best. “Swing (suburbanite)” has an addicting chorus and I’d love to hear a solid DJ remix of that song. The reggae influence makes it a track that stands out on the album. Its dying for a dub step mix.

The last song “You Like Boats” sounds like a 60’s throwback with country acoustic jangle and some great production layering, but the vocals actually get lost on this one, production and musically wise to me. I think again a lower octave vocally would be great. Palumbo is really straining on this one. Abe Something calls the influence of The Doors in his synth work in the best way possible on this one. Steve Goldberg’s drum work, with the snare playing a revolutionary call to something epic, I think the drummer and the synth player get the last word on this album.

I would be interested in seeing where this band goes from here. For their first LP, it is a decent start. It is a perfect summer time album that may not carry you into the fall but it is still worth a listen.

-Hannah Marney, July 15, 2011