A lot of bands try desperately to rekindle the sound of some genre that existed twenty to thirty years ago without actually listening to many records from the era that they are attempting to mimic. The Broken Letters, on the other hand, have captured the sound of some time long gone without submitting to a specific category. The Broken Letters' first full-length release, Sing the Burning Alphabet, is perfect for an evening when you feel down, but not out.
The ten songs are concise statements of gothic Southern loneliness and abandon. There is a subtle country feel to Burning Alphabet, but not in a contrived way. It is mainly due to the shimmering effect of generous washes of reverb and tremolo on the guitars. For instance, “Avian Blues” sounds like a slightly less distorted Neil Young track. The guitars and drums are rough and almost lo-fi in sound, but don’t come across as under-produced either. Vocalist David Hickox doesn’t have the best voice as his vocals are fairly soft and lack confidence. This adds to the overall charm. The timbre of his voice is perhaps closest to recent material by Mark Kozelek of Sun Kil Moon.
The melodies are compelling on Burning Alphabet. They truly captivate the listener and beg for attention. Almost every song is a slow or mid-tempo composition that sits beside you when you want to be alone. Interestingly, there is a funeral cover of Can’s classic song, “She Brings the Rain.” Here, The Broken Letters take the tempo down almost to a cadent halt. In the original version, Can uses jazz to punctuate the lyrics. In this rendition, there is only an electric piano and an acoustic guitar playing as bleakly as one could imagine.
If one needs to be convinced of the musical strength of these songs, look no further than “Thunder Ode,” the murky opening track. It is a marriage of The Angels of Light, Sun Kil Moon and Bonnie Prince Billy. Burning Alphabet is a crisp and refreshing debut. The songs are full and bare at the same time. The Broken Letters have mastered the art of having an impressive music collection without wearing it blatantly on their sleeves.