Bridge 9 Records
Release Date: 7/16/13
Defeater is a five-piece melodic hardcore group from Massachusetts, and Letters Home is their third full length LP. In the past, they’ve made a pretty big name for themselves for fans of a number of different genres and styles, largely due to vocalist Derek Archambault’s emotional outpouring and his band’s instrumental poetry reminiscent of groups like Modern Life is War, Shai Hulud, Touche Amore, and Have Heart. This record follows in this pattern for the most part, but for a large portion of it, the instrumentals fall flat and pale in comparison to the level of heart and passion put into Archambault’s lyrics.
A pretty key component of most Defeater songs is their steady linear progression and buildup into a climax, aptly aligned with Archambault’s storytelling. That pattern is typically bolstered by periodic instrumental dynamics (intricate drumming, clean riffs, tempo changes, etc) and recurring lyrical and musical motifs. Letters Home follows that theme pretty closely, likely because it’s something of a continuation from the stories told on 2008’s Travels and 2011’s Empty Days and Sleepless Nights. However, the dynamics are a bit more predictable, at least in terms of the pace at which they shift. For the most part, that steady flow makes the songs’ level of emotion seem a little more restrained and a little less unnervingly chaotic as per usual for the band.
On some tracks though, like “Bastards” and “Rabbit Foot,” the instrumentals come off as just about as wild and turbulent as the narrator’s emotions, proving to be just as thoughtfully provocative as they are fervidly effective. Unfortunately those tracks only seem to be diamonds in the rough, while the rest of the record’s blandness is only somewhat insufficiently compensated for with artistic honesty and highly compelling lyrics.
Overall, this Letters Home is a disappointment by Defeater’s high standards, but still manages to set the bar high for the band’s peers. The record just ultimately didn’t manage to give off that sort of paradoxical chaotic cohesion through unabashed emotion that Defeater has displayed in the past, and it consequently comes off as trite, and very conventional especially in context. That said, “Bastards” will undoubtedly resonate with fans new and old alike, as it did with me, as a very welcome addition to the band’s discography.