Dead Letter Chorus - Yearlings
Record Label: ABC/Universal Music
Release Date: August 26th, 2011
In the early Australian summer of 2008, Sydney based quintet Dead Letter Chorus quietly and unassumingly embarked upon the process of releasing their debut full-length, The Autumn Magnificent - a lovely twelve-track record that combined playful pop sensibilities, distinct folk undertones, and luscious choruses driven by dual male and female vocal deliveries from Cameron Potts and Gabrielle Huber respectively. For a debut release it was surprisingly assured, one moment they had formulated a unique sound that echoed like classic folk records in an abandoned railway yard ("Kill The King"), and the next they were able to showcase their songwriting prowess by vividly instilling images of helplessness and entrapment ("11th Dream About Aeroplanes"). To speak of The August Magnificent without mentioning the sheer beauty of its folk inspired antiquity would be doing the album an awful disservice. For those who were fortunate enough to stumble across it, and for the critics who raved and were swift to call it a sensation, I'm sure they too would agree the record as a whole took us on an emotional journey that drove us out to Magnolia Farm and left us sitting vulnerably at the door, with a damaged shovel and broken bucket, to find our way back home in the driving rain.
Thankfully, it now seems that after forcing themselves into isolation for eight months in a painstaking effort to write, record and perfect every individual facet of their sophomore effort, Dead Letter Chorus are preparing to return, and this time the beautiful, inviting, and absorbing Yearlings is waiting at our very own doorsteps. It's another collection of candid tracks that follow a thread of authenticity in that it's like the two lead vocalists are willing themselves to disclose wounding truths about their relationships, about their fears and dreams, and yet still come out of these therapeutic writing sessions smiling and vibrant which is a testament to their character. Even more impressive is that throughout the duration of Yearlings, their songwriting is noticeably more refined and the storytelling elements within their lyrics are more compelling than in previous efforts. It's rare that an album demands that you listen to it repeatedly, forces you to purchase it, and before long it resonates with its listener to the point where it encourages you to live inside of it for the full forty minute duration.
The piercingly direct, "I won't think about what I've left behind / I won't think about you now" serves as the opening sentence that you'll hear as Yearlings opens with the harmonious and slowly building cadence of "Covered By Snow". It's somewhat staggering to think that it begins with gentle acoustic guitar strumming, but with each and every new verse that arrives there's another added layer of instrumentation to unpack and explore. What starts as a folk ballad soon blossoms gloriously into an energetic album opener complete with powerful drumbeats, fluctuating strings and a stirring piano interlude. "Run, Wild" throws any semblance of structure out of the window and instead it radiates the impression that it was thrown together on the spot in a spontaneous fashion. Far from being rushed however, the amount of gorgeous melodies and soaring harmonies on offer need to be heard to be believed. In fact, towards the latter portion of the track the band have even incorporated the assistance of an eight-piece choir to chant and harmonize seamlessly along with them. It succeeds in highlighting a sense of freedom, enjoyment and exploration that one can't help but allow themselves to get swept up in, such is the energy it's able to conjure.
As wonderfully as the two vocal styles work together and complement the other, Huber drawing listeners in with her sweet and worn melodic lines while Potts tugs at the heartstrings with a deeper and more straightforward delivery, Huber assumes sole lead vocal duties on the stunning one-two punch of, "I Belong With You" with "Underdog". The former creates a lovely cinematic atmosphere as vocals rise strenuously to reach the highest of notes, but never once cracking under the pressure. There's an irrepressible feeling of vulnerability that manages to etch itself into every note played and lyric sung as Huber's vocals subtly waltz with love, somberness and loss when she sings, "If I ever get the courage, I'd write your name in the stars so we'd never be apart / If I controlled all time, I would have made you mine instead of passing you by". "I Belong With You" extrapolates on the idea that the feelings of love can at times be strong enough to make you fear the very thought of losing it. At five and a half minutes, "Underdog" is the album highlight and from the moment strings begin to wane under tension, it's clear to see why. It's lyrically uplifting and a timely reminder that although love can at times be nothing more than a compelling illusion, once discovered and given time to blossom, rarely can you see yourself living without it. "Cause I forget myself when you are here, all angst it simply disappears / and why we're here, it seems so perfectly clear / you're with me and I'm with you".
As Yearlings reaches its latter stages we're treated to the rollicking "Yellow House", a tune with all the positivity and optimism one could only imagine. It's accessible, the chorus is enormous, and the vocal harmonies all swell together to create one of the lighter and breezier moments on the record. It's like finding that last flickering, faltering glow of sunshine on a chilly winter afternoon just moments before it vanishes back into the clouds. It's romance at its finest and most carefree of forms. "The Changing Tides" loses itself momentarily in an uneventful rut, but thankfully by the time the final chorus explodes out of absolutely nowhere it's rendered a success. A sombre rendition of "Gently Weeping" sees a relationship gradually disintegrating in three minutes of heartache. The lyrics are poetically written with the final verse ending in devastation, yet requited acceptance, "And on your cheek and on your brow / the cruel dark lines of worry's frown / and as we walk upon this ground, our love is lost, buried, drowned".
The final two tracks ("The Poet and The Thief" and "Edge Of Town") are pleasant, but unfortunately they don't quite deliver the memorable moments that could be located with relative ease at the beginning of the record, which is disappointing but certainly not a major criticism. The former sees the band experimenting with vocal overdubs, substantial amounts of reverb and looping effects that create a confused and disjointed soundscape. It's not a bad track, but in the context of the record it feels unnecessary and damages the flow and overall cohesiveness of the album as a whole. And really, when you look at it, those final two tracks are the only minor flaws that grace Yearlings - a record of evolution, an album that's as evocative as it is beautifully moving, and it's a collection of songs that are destined to see Dead Letter Chorus win over many adoring hearts once again - but this time one can only hope that it captures them on a worldwide scale.