Chris Letcher
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Chris Letcher

London, England, United Kingdom | INDIE

London, England, United Kingdom | INDIE
Band Alternative Singer/Songwriter


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"Frieze - Chris Letcher - CD of the week"

Frieze - Chris Letcher

CD of the week

November 15, 2006

By Jeremy Daniel

Sheer Sound
Star rating: *****

Prodigal son returns with compelling album. This is simply a great album. Truly world class. Intricate, complex, melodic, ambitious, funny, literate and so damn listenable it will make you gasp...

Probably the best songwriter this country has produced for years, let's hope he gets the rewards he deserves. God bless the bigger picture. - The Star Tonight Newspaper (also online)


Chris Letcher

There's a harrowing elegance that attaches 'Frieze', amid its skewed melodic tablatures and haunting wastelands of screwed up love notes, forgotten hopes and abandoned dreams, Letcher crafts a gloriously dysfunctional modern day pop opera.

Back in his homeland of South Africa this debut outing has been the subject of a flurry of awards and deservedly so, now relocated to London completing his doctorate at the Royal College of Music, Letcher's pedigree can be retraced back to the 90's when he was a member of Urban Creep, since their demise he's been busy working on both solo and collaborative projects whilst exploring film compositions the fruition of which can be heard on the recently completed score for Clare Angelique's film 'my black little heart'. Chris Letcher is also the nom de plume of his assembled London based five piece.

Don't for one second kid yourself 'frieze' is an exceptional body of work, all at once intelligent, intricate and thoughtful its unabashed ambition bleeds through its multi layered grooves, touching, melodically astute and at times haunting this fifteen track opus is an inspired carnival of mixed emotions and contradicting mood swings that rush to sugar tipped peaks of euphoria one moment (as on the glorious triumphant pop fixation of the opening cut 'Deep Frieze' with its celebratory J Xaverre like tugs and lushly coaxed west coast fizziness) the next splintered and crushed tearfully under foot (as on the exceptionally sublime 'bird caught fire' - a soul scavenging gem threaded throughout with an eerie whirling spectral willow-ness fleshed by arcs of monumental grandeur). Not so much a rollercoaster - more kitchen sink than a plumbers merchants.

Reference wise (in recent memory) 'frieze' clearly identifies with J Xaverre's 'these acid stars', Archer Prewitt's 'White Sky' (especially on the bleakly murmuring 'architect' or its half cousin 'robotic soldiers' with its dinkily drawn out frosted pirouettes ), Tex La Homa, Epicycle, Oddfellows Casino (the fragile and frail piano led and rustically tempered 'special agents' is a thing of emotion unravelling beauty), Kevin Tahista (captured perfectly by the unassumingly elegant and graceful 'misheen') and Baby Bird (check out the lushly orchestrated aspects of the grippingly tormented and enchanting 'bad shepherd' and the cripplingly mournfully eloquence of 'sketch') - in fact listened as a whole it's the latter to whom Letcher and Co clearly recall in terms of texture and bruised pop majesty. Littered throughout these bitterly sweet bruised odes are stricken with a unfailing sense of the waning and wilting omnipresent touch of the macabre and the morose. Deeply intimate and yet strangely caressed with an introverted power pop sensibility.

Elsewhere the cantering shadow lit MOR motifs of the arresting 'swallow's tail' contrast sharply with the quietly inward turbulence of 'milk' while 'wait' even shimmers initially ever so gently into orbits more commonly associated with the Beach Boys and the Earlies before unfurling into a fuzzed out electro slice of kooky candy pop. And just when you thought you had completed the journey relatively unscathed and with that had momentarily dropped your guard the achingly gorgeous 'so long, dust!' with its 'bird caught fire' reprises lassoes whatever resolve you mistakingly thought you'd hung on to.

Without doubt 'frieze' is the work of a fractured genius.

Key tracks -

Bird caught fire
Deep frieze
Special agents
So long, dust!



“Letcher has created a world that feels somehow more real than the one we're living in, and when the album is over, our own world doesn't feel quite the same.” Etan Rosenbloom, Prefix Mag

“A sense of luminous menace... proof of the pleasure-potential of the disquieting and disturbed." Guardian UK, June 2007

"Diese Album ist ein hörenswerter Gegenbeweis; Da hat jemand viel gewollt und viel geschafft." Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, August 2007

"Fascinatingly delicate textures that enhance the somber narratives." Ken Barnes, USA Today

“Dense, gorgeous pop.” Maura Johnston, Idolator

“Makes the earnest mopes of miserable bastards like David Gray and Damien Rice look like laundry lists.” - GQ (April 2007)

“A lush orchestrated soundtrack in search of a film - you know, something big budget and with lots of expensive crane shots and boyfriends in the rain calling up to their girlfriends illuminated windows. John Cusack needs to hear this.” Mike Errico, Senior Editor - Blender Magazine, USA June 2007

"The most sophisticated rock album ever made by a South African Artist." FHM (February 2007)

"A écouter d'urgence." - Indietronica

"The album Frieze illustrates that Chris Letcher is one of the greatest songwriters to grace the shores of this southern-most tip of Africa." Lloyd Gedye, Mail & Guardian

"This is simply a great album. Truly world class. Intricate, complex, melodic, ambitious, funny, literate and so damn listenable it will make you gasp" - Jeremy Daniel, The Star

"Keenly intelligent, musically dense, utterly memorable, always sliding through any attempts to nail it down to a genre." Diane Coetzer, Billboard/Entertainment Africa

"Une grande réussite, un grand moment de bonheur simple à découvrir d'urgence..." - Mur de son - VARIOUS

"Prefix Mag"

8.5 out of 10

Even today, seventeen years after the end of the apartheid era and the economic and cultural embargoes that came with it, South Africa remains a culturally anonymous nation to most Americans. At best, we know its music through the vibrant harmonies of Ladysmith Black Mambazo and the softly foreign lilt of ex-pat Dave Matthews's accent. So when you first find out that singer/songwriter Chris Letcher hails from South Africa, his majestic international debut, Frieze, takes on a special importance. It becomes an unintended act of grand pop diplomacy, proof that there's something going on down there that's deserving of the world's ears.

Of course, calling Letcher the new ambassador of South African pop music is a silly move, in that there's nothing about Frieze that identifies it as a peculiarly South African record. The album sheds the African references and polyglot rock sound of Letcher's beloved former band, Urban Creep, in favor of the wide-palette pop settings of American indie favorites Sufjan Stevens and Andrew Bird. Hooks emerge gently, cradled by broad swaths of guitar, piano, brass, recorder, synthesizer, harmonium, cello, electronics, and multilayered vocals. And despite Frieze's sonic bigness, its songs feel small and personal.

Letcher's characters are just as imperfect and conflicted as real people. They feel pain, confuse love with sex, make bad decisions, leave each other, leave the earth. The poetic directness of Letcher's lyrics makes gorgeous songs like "Special Agents" and "Misheen" all the more heartbreaking. But there is hope amidst the despair. Album highlight "Milk" steamrolls right through the desolation of lines like "You don't love me you don't love me so bad/ I must be mistaken, you're the best that I had" with chugging, Arcade Fire abandon. On "I Was Awake I Could Not Move My Eyes," Letcher creates his own version of Sufjan Stevens's "Casimir Pulaski Day"( He turns some bad news about a friend's collapsed lung into a sprightly waltz, backed by piano, plucked strings, and the clicking of a real heart/lung transplant machine.

On "Bad Shepherd," Letcher sings "All broken things dream of repair" to a man whose father has just died. It's a simple mantra of perseverance, and it has the ring of truth to it, because we all know suffering, and we all know what it's like to desire healing. Frieze is a sad album, yes, but also tremendously comforting. Letcher has created a world that feels somehow more real than the one we're living in, and when the album is over, our own world doesn't feel quite the same.

- PrefIx Magazine

"CD of the Week"

Home and back again

The album Frieze illustrates that Chris Letcher is one of the greatest songwriters to grace the shores of this southern-most tip of Africa, writes Lloyd Gedye

hen complacency kicks in, it’s a downhill slide. The musical landscape is littered with examples of artists at the top of their game who let it all slip away.

Feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt will fuel the artistic fire for many years to come and they also go a long way towards explaining the sublime new album by one of South Africa’s truly great songwriters, Chris Letcher.

Having graduated from the Trinity College of Music in London with a master’s in music for composition, Letcher has embarked on a PhD in film music composition at the Royal College of Music.

He admits to feeling nervous and “completely inadequate” in the beginning, but says he is more comfortable now and that the experience has had a profound impact on his new album Frieze (Sheer).

“Part of doing all that stuff was becoming more familiar with all the recording technologies and being more in control of that, not having to rely on producers,” says Letcher.

He says that through his work, composing music for numerous films and documentaries, he has embraced ambient sound and electronic music, which is clearly evident on Frieze.

Its 16 tracks are typical Letcher fare -- intimate literary excursions. But, these new songs are transformed into a mature collage of sound that will distinguish it from his previous work with Matthew van der Want and Urban Creep, illustrated by his reworking of older material that breathes new life into these ageing gems.

Letcher’s new vision means his sonic palette has expanded, as demonstrated by the album track I Was Awake I Could Not Move My Eyes, which presents the story of a man lying in an intensive care unit, waiting for a lung transplant.

The subtle clanking and throbbing percussion was created using sounds recorded from machines in the actual lung transplant unit. As Letcher sings “My sleep abused by bells and panic alarms”, the machines and tubes sing along in unison.

Last week Letcher returned to South African shores, with his new band in tow, for a whirlwind tour to launch his new album.

“We are kind of doing a similar thing now with the band that we used to do with Urban Creep, putting five people in a car and covering crazy distances,” says Letcher.

He says the last month has been a manic affair; he is in the middle of recording music for a new film, My Black Little Heart, which he describes as a powerful movie produced by Zentropa, which will premiere at the Berlinale Film Festival in February next year.

Frieze illustrates once again that Letcher is one of the greatest songwriters to grace the shores of this southern-most tip of Africa, yet his past albums remain out of print and his music has been largely ignored by local radio -- no wonder he is currently based in London to establis his career in music. - Mail and Guardian


Chris Letcher - FRIEZE LP -
Chris Letcher - DEEP FRIEZE Single - Playlisted on National, Community and US College Radio, in Germany and in South Africa

Harmonium EP, 2009

New Album due 2010



Chris Letcher is a songwriter and film composer. His debut solo album Frieze (2007) and the EP Harmonium (2008) have received glowing reviews since being released in Europe and the US, and Letcher has performed in the US, Canada, Australia, and Europe while getting extensive radio play, reaching the top 20 in the US on College Radio charts, and also featuring on the influential Morning Becomes Eclectic show on California’s KCRW, Australia’s JJJ, and BBC Radio in the UK.

Letcher is currently putting the finishing touches to a full-length follow up to Frieze to be released in February 2011. The new album shows an extensive use of wide-screen orchestration (bass clarinets, string and brass sections, mbira, singing saws as well as drum machines and analogue synthesizers) in the creation of an explicit pop-song extravaganza. The album is recorded and mixed by Finn Eiles (My Bloody Valentine, Jack Penate, Razorlight). Letcher plans to unveil the new album at Eurosonic 2011 in Groningen, with tours of the UK, Germany, Holland and the US to follow.

Frieze was in the top position on both eMusic’s Commercial Alternative and Progressive Rock charts in the US for ten months, and Chris has performed at Austin’s South by Southwest, Toronto’s North by Northeast, and has recently returned from his first Australian tour. He is currently working on a full-length follow up to Frieze, set for release early in 2010. He has recently completed scoring the music for HOUR a film made in collaboration with the photographer, Tim Wainwright, and My Black Little Heart with director, Claire Angelique, and cinematographer, Anthony Dod Mantle (Slumdog Millionaire).

Letcher has recently completed the score for a BBC adaptation of DH Lawrence’s novel Women in Love.

Chris achieved his first critical and commercial success with Urban Creep, one of South Africa's biggest rock bands. He has continued to release stunning solo and collaborative projects – recently working with Dave Matthews, Xavier Rudd and Vusi Mahlasela – as well as creating music for films and documentaries. He is currently studying towards the completion of his Doctorate in Music Composition at the Royal College of Music, London.

Playing live with Chris are Victoria Hume (keyboards/voice), Andrew Joseph (bass), Phil Wakeman (guitar/voice) David Eugene Webb (drums/glock). Guests include Quinta (Bat for Lashes) on viola/saw.

Praise for Frieze:
“Keenly intelligent, musically dense, utterly memorable” Billboard
“Chris Letcher crafts songs that sound like dawn: low and creaky, slowly building to a big burst of light.” Rolling Stone
“A sense of luminous menace... further proof of the pleasure-potential of the disquieting and disturbed.” Guardian
“Letcher has created a world that feels somehow more real than the one we're living in, and when the album is over, our own world doesn't feel quite the same.” Etan Rosenbloom, Prefix Mag
“A lush orchestrated soundtrack.” Editor’s Picks, Blender, US
“The most sophisticated rock album ever made by a South African Artist.” FHM
“An intricately orchestrated, sincerely sung and often humorous offering... disquieting, electro-flecked, intricately composed revenge ballads.” Critics’ Choice, London Time Out