Dead Letter Circus - The Catalyst Fire
Brisbane outfit Dead Letter Circus caused some serious waves in 2010 after the release of their very good debut album This is the Warning. They have collected a large following after a few years of extensive touring, including supporting slots for Muse, Linkin Park and Animals as Leaders (in the US). As such, The Catalyst Fire created a large amount of buzz when its release was announced for earlier this month. Unfortunately for the band it may not quite live up to the hype or its predecessor.
This is the Warning was a damn wonderful rock album. Shiny melodies, clattering drums and thought-provoking lyrics delivered in lead singer Kim Benzie’s soaring vocals made it one of the best Australian albums of the year. It was voted in at number 86 in Triple J’s Hottest 100 Australian Albums of all time a year later.
The Catalyst Fire essentially lifts off from where This is the Warning finished up; The sparkly post-rock-esque rhythms and hooks and Benzie’s pitch-perfect vocals are still ever present but unfortunately the edginess that made their debut so captivating is severely lacking.
The biggest downfall of Dead Letter Circus’s music is the lack of sonic variety in their songs. This is the Warning managed to just scrape together enough variation, with songs like “This is the Warning”, “Next in Line” and “The Space on the Wall” providing a nice breakup to the rest of the tracks; Their latest release really doesn't do this at all. The only songs that remotely stand out are the excellent second track “Alone Awake” (due to its massive chorus) and the very good lead single “Lodestar”. This is not saying the rest of the songs are bad, because they aren't by any stretch of the imagination, but they do lack any qualities to make them stand out from the pack.
Part of the reason that this is the case is because of the gross overproduction of the album. The band’s sound is shiny anyway, but the production almost takes away any human sound to the music. It’s so pristine it’s like the cleaning chemicals cupboard of a person with obsessive compulsive disorder. Dead Letter Circus would benefit hugely by unleashing a bit of mongrel into their albums. It’s something they do very well in their live shows, where the passion in their music shines through to a greater degree.
Dead Letter Circus are still a band to watch, and if you like nicely digestible alternative rock with pretty melodies and up-lifting vocals then this album is well worth a listen. However after their terrific debut, The Catalyst Fire is a step backwards creatively for them and is the sound of an otherwise excellent band underachieving. That said, anything Dead Letter Circus release is going to be of a high quality and it’s a shame that on The Catalyst Fire that the quality is in the style of the album not its substance.