StevieRay Latham’s new ‘Letters from Suburbia’ EP opens with a song – ‘Dionysus Blues’ – which name-checks the god of wine and ecstasy, known as Bacchus to the Romans.
But rather than a boozy celebration it has the mood of a hangover – specifically a love affair gone sour or decayed through time and separation (“The distance between us grows longer like shadows do at dusk.”). It sounds like a post-mortem on a relationship, and true to the EPs title, an epistle which we, the listener, are not sure we should be privy to.
Sonically it has the haunting feel of a horror movie soundtrack. Lathan is credited with vocals, guitars, bass, percussion, piano, microkorg, organ. He is backed by The Nomads of Industrial Suburbia – Matt Street (trumpet), Simon Murfet (drums) and Laura Porter (percussion, backing vocals).
It is a compelling track and just when you think your concentration might slip, Laura Porter joins in the vocals (a Greek chorus?). It is a cacophonous but affecting turn of sound-texture, which helps justify the song’s 8-minute duration.
‘Gashouse’ – written with Kyle Rodriguez Tester- is Latham’s new single and it is the catchiest number on the EP. The nagging, garage rock-style guitar hooks you into a tale of defiance – “Head down, back to the wall …. You’ve got to break the shackles that drag you along.” It is a song you can listen to repeatedly without it losing its impact.
Luckily, Tester and Latham survived carbon monoxide poisoning from the old gas heater in the studio where the track was recorded – avoiding taking irony to too cruel a level.
The third track ‘Letter from Suburbia’ – is like a glass of cordial after two servings of high ABV wine. Its repeated refrain of ‘Your pale green eyes’ is off-set by observations of ‘moss growing in the yard’ and the assertion that “it’s getting harder still.”
‘Don’t Make Me Love You In Vain’ returns to the subject of withered love. It also references the Greek god again – “Dionysus was kissing your brain.”
Like the opening song, it also takes an unexpected turn towards the end – in the form of a spoken- word coda called ‘Transient Circles.’ We hear the barely audible voice of someone telling us that he lives opposite a graveyard and “… couldn’t find any trace of her anywhere.” The speaker relies on “Narcotics in the morning, sedatives in the evening.” Again, it’s like eavesdropping on a private conversation or monologue.’ The music becomes a backing track to the spoken voice- there is the faint sound of a repeated bell ringing. It brings the EP to a plaintive and captivating end.
With ‘Letters from Suburbia,’ StevieRay Latham makes his mark on a well-trodden path of confessional male singer-songwriters (with perhaps Bob Dylan’s ‘Blood on the Tracks’ at its apex). It also has enough lyrical strength and sonic twists to make it worth savouring until the very last drop.
‘Letters From Suburbia’ is released on 12 March 2021