Sound — 6
At their beginning over ten years ago, Letlive. were one of the many fresh-faced bands trying to capture the zeitgeist of the burgeoning emocore scene. Their first album, 2005's "Speak Like You Talk," made for a decent debut, chock full of frenetic riffs and Glassjaw-inspired vocals by frontman Jason Aalon Butler (which ended up making for a feasible substitution, since Glassjaw didn't release new music for years in the meantime). But though momentum didn't build up quickly for the band, taking years for Letlive. to release their follow-up album, 2010's "Fake History," Letlive. would catch their big break after the album caught the attention of Brett Gurewitz, resulting in them being signed to Epitaph Records.
With Letlive. snowballing in relevance in the past few years, their style has also started to grow. Along with including more soft sections to contrast their upbeat post-hardcore moments, their third album, 2013's "The Blackest Beautiful," invested more in Butler's vocals, not only loading up on more harmonies, but also showing Butler cultivate a soulful singing style to give the band's sound a distinct quality.
Taking those beginning steps in a new direction, it's no surprise that Letlive.'s fourth album, "If I'm the Devil...," strives even further for diversity in the band's sound. This primarily manifests in more lower-geared songwriting, as well as more aspects that pivot to a pop-minded sound. Partly, this is a means to promote Butler's singing even further - flaunting his dulcet tones most notably in "I'm Learning to Love Myself" and the soulful "Foreign Cab Drivers" - but this direction also instigates singalongs that come off more desperate than rousing, heard in "Good Mourning America," "Copper Colored Quiet," and "Who You Are Not," which sounds like it belongs on Fall Out Boy's most recent album.
With only a few songs still appealing to the band's fleeting punk sound - heard in "Nü Romantics," the pop punky "Elephant," and the Cancer Bats-esque hardcore cut of "Another Offensive Song" - the fact that the span of "If I'm the Devil..." is mostly occupied by power ballads does make the album feel somewhat tedious. Letlive. do what they can to infuse some dynamic energy in their abundance of ballads, but the results are mixed. The hint-of-classic-rock titular song simmers to a boiling crest in a satisfying arc of power, and the delicate guitar melodies that tiptoe upon a meaty bassline in "Reluctantly Dead" displays a cool contrast, but other cases like the chorus in "Good Mourning America" and the bridge of "Foreign Cab Drivers" come off loud but meager, falling short of intrigue.
Lyrics — 8
Also taking a step further from what was shown in their previous album, Butler's lyrics in "If I'm the Devil..." are even more embedded in covering social issues. More than anything, Butler trains his focus on police brutality and the hot-button issue of extrajudicial killing done by police, and though he takes it head-on in "Another Offensive Song" ("Those words might get you shot / Your skin might get you shot"), he takes more pensive routes in articulating his thoughts and feelings in other moments, attempting to put himself in the shoes of a disgruntled officer in "Reluctantly Dead" ("The blood on my hands is like drugs on my nose / I've been confused with someone who's in control"), and addressing his own savage impulses in "Good Mourning America" ("'We ain't so different now, you and me' / Said the cop to the killer inside of me"). In general, Butler's lyrical mind shows more poetic growth, and along with being more convoluted in his scathing critique of the modern American dream in "Nü Romantics," his recurring theme of addressing his emotional emptiness comes in captivating juxtapositions, heard in "Who You Are Not" ("I'd rather watch you drown than admit my drought") and "I've Learned to Love Myself" ("The problem I'm seeing with being so damn empty / Is the irony when you're completely full of shit").
Overall Impression — 7
Letlive.'s recent desire to start venturing beyond their well-regarded post-hardcore sound is an understandable one, but the steps that are taken further in "If I'm the Devil..." prove to be ambivalent. While they managed to thread the needle between the old and new in "The Blackest Beautiful," their bigger initiative on ushering in a new pop-influenced sound in "If I'm the Devil..." undoubtedly takes away more of the previous qualities of Letlive.'s cardinal appeal, and though some of the new qualities the album offers are worthwhile, like Butler's stronger vocal presence and more instrumental variance, the large focus on ballads and singalongs is a change of pace that, at the very least, succeeds in making "If I'm the Devil..." the most divisive album in the band's catalog.