Even if you don’t agree with it, it’s relatively easy to see why some prog fans take umbrage at Dead Letter Circus being classed as such. There’s definitely more of an off-centre edge than a lot of alt-rock bands, but in their use of fairly straightforward song structures and generally more melodic foundations, they arguably have more in common with their fellow Australians Hands Like Houses than the majority of prog. Still, it’s not as though it really matters as long as the music is good, and though they’ve never had that one nailed-on moment of greatness, Dead Letter Circus’ consistency has regularly been their greatest asset (apart from maybe Kim Benzie’s vocals which always have an excellent smoothness and level of polish).
And with this self-titled album, nothing has really changed. Dead Letter Circus continue down an emphatically melodic path that’s still lacking in those enormous standout moments that could undoubtedly push this album into greatness, but it’s extremely easy to get into all the same, and serves as a more grounded take on polish, electronically-driven modern rock that’s definitely appreciated. And in a nice change of pace, it’s down to the band’s knowledge of subtlety that drives this, a far cry from many bands in this vein who are more than happy to stuff the mix in an effort to sound as bombastic as possible to little avail. With Dead Letter Circus though, tracks like Ladders For Leaders feel like the natural punctuation an album like this needed, dropping down to liquid guitars and suppressed drumbeats for a softer, more supple landscape, and Benzie opting for his breathier lower range is the perfect touch. Of course, those more openly soaring moments remain the norm, but The Real You and We Own The Light are able to capture a fluidity that their more progressive side allows to shine.
The problem with all that, though, comes in the production, and whereas modern prog can often have a problem with lacking in any significant texture, Dead Letter Circus somehow manage to take that a step further. They are signed to Rise after all, and the notorious amount of polish that label doles out to its acts hasn’t gone amiss here, and goes so far as flattening everything out here and leaving it as kind of homogeneous. It doesn’t exactly help the problem of Dead Letter Circus failing to stand out, but admittedly, it’s not nearly as crippling here as it is with most, and on the likes of Armour You Own and Trade Places, it aids in creating the widescreen atmosphere that works well for them. As accidental as it may be, Dead Letter Circus are an ideal example of working with production rather than against it, and it comes to fruition pretty much across the board.
Once again, it’s a showcase of the consistency that Dead Letter Circus bring to the table that, four albums in, is yet to really see them flag. They’re not exactly blossoming either and that needs to be the issue they address next to continue in such good stead, but as far as good, slightly more progressive alt-rock goes, there’s a lot of mileage to get from this album. It’s not exactly revolutionary, but it does the job, and it’s difficult to come down on too harshly for that.
For fans of: Hands Like Houses, Karnivool, The Getaway Plan
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Dead Letter Circus’ by Dead Letter Circus is released on 21st September on Rise Records / BMG Rights Management.