From the get-go, there's something just not right with this record. The lead-in guitar jangle on "Better That Way" seems derived from 10,000 Maniacs. That's no criminal offense, but once the drab vocals begin spewing cryptic, introspective goo, it's apparent this will be a trip to the center of the songwriters' depressed minds.
Frankly, that's a road best left untraveled. Tortured romantics have always had a place in pop music, but on this record, the would-be blackened poetry comes across more like a juvenile toasted marshmallow.
You can get the gist of the record just by looking at the CD's inner sleeve. Under each song title is a single lyric designed to summarize the respective track. The line representing "Trying Not to Be" reads: "'Cause you can look inside these dark and jaded eyes, but you can't tell me why." The next track, "Become the Urge," is even more mysterious: "Someday I'll see the light / I'll count my money pile / Sit back asleep awhile / And dream of feeling night."
Lead vocalists Ryan Slie and Sean Smith are responsible for this dull melancholia as well as for the nonemotive, folkie delivery on every song (not unlike Brad Roberts from Crash Test Dummies). Musically, the blend of strings and refined percussion is arranged well and rendered smartly. "Open Fire," for instance, benefits most from the band's tempered skills, but things take a nosedive as soon as the monotone vocals enter the picture.
The main problem with Sly Letter's CD is that, from salutation to postscript, every track alienates the listener. The sardonic vocals and aura of gloom on These Autumn Skies reflect novice songwriters who thrust their muddled despondency on anyone who'll listen.
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