There are five men in Massachusetts who have been telling the same story for five years. Although this sounds like the beginning of an urban legend you tell over a campfire in a spooky voice and a flashlight under your face, it describes hardcore punk band Defeater, whose 2008 debut album Travels told the first part of a saga that continues with their most recent album Letters Home. All of Defeater’s existing albums are concept albums, meaning every track on each album shares a common theme. (The Who’s Tommy is a concept album, for example.) The story that begun in Travels follows a family in New Jersey shortly after World War II, with each album focusing on a particular part of the story. Travels told the tale of the family’s sons, who were struggling with their mother’s drug addiction and their father’s alcoholism. Letters Home focuses on the father himself, who is a soldier in the war and writing “letters home” to his family. It’s important to note the connection between the first and last tracks; the album opens with “Bastards,” a letter to the family from the father detailing that “Heartless and cold, and I’ve learned it well/How to lose everything/How to push you away.” The first chorus culminates with the line “And still all you see is that bastard in me,” which is repeated at the end of the second chorus, except here he says, “And still all I see is that bastard in me.” The album ends with “Bled Out,” a track whose lyrics bear no resemblance to those of the first track except in the last line, which is “And still all I see is that bastard in me.” Ah-ha, Defeater, we see what you did there.
After hearing about the father from the point of view of his sons in the first album (“What did she ever do to you/But raise us by herself/When you were too drunk to come through”), it was an interesting contrast to hear the father’s take on life, his family, and his drinking problem. For example, in the track “Hopeless Again,” the father is presumably speaking to his bottle of Jack or liquor de jour, referring to it as his “old friend” and telling it that “On the front lines/I watched as good men died/I left a piece of me in foreign country side/And in my own home/I’m a stranger now/I was a husband once.”
Although Letters Home is a continuation of a story started as far back as when all of our presidents had had the same skin tone, listeners don’t have to be familiar with that album in order to appreciate this one. Although a valuable addition to the Defeater saga, Letters Home can also stand alone as an excellent example of the melodic guitar riffs and powerful vocals from lead screamer I mean whoops singer Derek Archambault that Defeater is known for. From the opening slam of the drums on “Bastards” to the slower-paced, soulful last track “Bled Out,” Letters Home does an excellent job of telling a dramatic story.
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