Following the glowing reviews London-based songwriter and film composer Chris Letcher received for his debut album Frieze (2007) and EP Harmonium (2008), Letcher now releases his full-length follow up, Spectroscope.
Recorded and mixed in London by Finn Eiles (My Bloody Valentine, Jack Penate, Razorlight), Letcher’s new album extends his use of lush orchestration. Bass clarinets, string and brass sections, mbiras and singing saws enfold drum machines and 1970s synthesizers to buttress an album of literate pop songs. Letcher has performed at Austin’s South by Southwest and Toronto’s North by Northeast. He is set to tour widely in support of his new record, performing with, amongst others, Katherine Mann of Quinta (who has also recorded and toured with Bat for Lashes and Radiohead drummer Phil Selway). Letcher’s songs appeared in the feature film The Bang Bang Club (2011) starring Ryan Phillipe. He recently completed the score for a BBC adaptation of the DH Lawrence novel, Women in Love, and also scored a six-part serial drama for Sky1.
Other recent film music credits include HOUR, a film made in collaboration with photographer, Tim Wainwright, and My Black Little Heart with director Claire Angelique and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours). Frieze appeared in both The Sunday Times and the Mail & Guardian’s ‘Albums of the Decade’ lists and was featured on the influential Morning Becomes Eclectic show on California’s KCRW, Australia’s JJJ, BBC 6 Music, and BBC Radio 3 in the UK. Frieze was also in the top position on both eMusic’s Commercial Alternative and Progressive Rock charts in the US for ten months. Each song on Spectroscope is conceived as a separate ‘band’ on a spectrum that runs from hooky pop song structures (‘The Sun! The Sun!’, a snare-and-kick-driven kind of ‘We Will Rock You’, albeit in a 7/4 time-signature) to more abstract compositions with less conventional structures or instrumentation. ‘One Died’, for example, is a setting of Robert Berold’s poem of the same name for voice and overdriven ‘tack’ piano, harmonically and structurally more adventurous than anything on Letcher’s previous records.
Letcher’s roots in South Africa are also more evident on this record. He uses a pair of ‘interlocking’ mbiras (or ‘thumb pianos’, one in the left speaker, one in the right) as the basis for a reworking of a fragment of Bill Callahan’s masterpiece ‘I’m New Here’. This ‘hocket’ technique found in many types of African music — where melody lines emerge from a weave of two or more separate but interlocking parts rather than from a single lead solo instrument — is also present in the coda of ‘The Loneliest Air’, and in the intertwining pair of clarinets on ‘You Only Had to Point’. The influence of Letcher’s soundtrack work is also evident in the instrumentation on Spectroscope — from the lush string section that brings ‘Seeing Things’ to a close, to the harp, trombone and French horns that form a musical bed for ‘Starrrs’.