Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Album Review: Letters From The Fire - Worth The Pain

In the last year or so, there has been one trend that I have been quite fond of; an increase in the number of good female-fronted rock bands. For a while, it was trendy to have a woman fronting a rock band, but that has since passed, and the women currently rocking the scene are doing so for the sheer love of the music. Last year, Lunden Reign made classic rock cool again, while Jasmine Cain had the slickest album of modern pop/rock I heard all year. And now this year, we've had Forever Still show us how to do modern rock the right way, and while I'm waiting for Blues Pills to come floor me again, Letters From The Fire is here to put their stamp on the style as well.

"Perfect Life" distills what this incarnation of the band is going to be delivering; heavy modern rock with strong pop overtones in the vocals. Alexa Kabazie is going to be the center of attention, and it's not hard to see why. Her delivery pumps up the songs melodically, giving them the pop sheen to make them slowly dig in and attach themselves to your memory. It has just the right mix of heavy, churning guitars to go along with the upbeat chorus, which makes it a sure-fire winner.

The trick to playing this kind of music is that pop hits are deceptively hard to write. We think that three minute singles with simple but addictive hooks are the easiest thing in the world to come up with, but anyone who has tried to write songs knows the opposite is the truth. To consistently crank out melodically captivating material is among the hardest things a band can be asked to do, and it's the downfall of many promising acts.

Letters From The Fall does as good a job as you could expect of living up to the task, producing songs that consistently deliver strong hooks. In many instances, the album sounds like what I imagine would have happened if pop music a decade ago decided to double down on success to go in a heavier, more rock-oriented direction. "Bruised" is a song that would have generated airplay back before pop radio seemed to ban guitars.

There's a good mix of heavier rock songs and softer melodic fare, which keeps the album from getting stale by staying in one sound for too long. The simple fact of the matter is that modern rock of this variety, which places the rhythm of the guitars over classic riffs, blends together pretty easily, so diversity is essential if a record that lasts fifty minutes is going to survive its own length. Fortunately, Alexa is able to use her voice to bend these melodies into sturdy hooks, and the album never goes long without a potential sing-along moment coming along.

The obvious comparisons to make would be with Flyleaf and Paramore, and those do work. The basics are the same, although Letters From The Fire have a few more modern elements in the mix to differentiate them from those other bands. Plus, the deciding factor is that, at least for this album, they're far more consistent songwriters. Over the course of this record, there isn't anything approaching a dud. Everything on the album is highly enjoyable, even if I think it might have been a touch more effective with one or two less tracks.

The bottom line is that if you like modern rock that carries pop overtones, Letters From The Fire is doing it extremely well. This record might be a bit too slick for some, and I wouldn't disagree that it might be a bit too tightly wound, but it's a refreshing alternative to the rock bands that are fighting a race towards depression. "Worth The Pain" is a solid pop/rock record of the kind you don't get to hear that much anymore.

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