The Fire Apes
A Life in Letters
More than two years after veteran Charleston songsmith John Seymour first began laying down basic tracks, he has finally released the latest Fire Apes collection. With packaging and artwork glossy enough to match the finely polished music and arrangements on the disc, A Life in Letters is remarkably appealing. It's also slightly stale.
The Apes initially earned a lot of attention during the late 1990s as one of the scene's premier power-pop groups. With an amiable rotation of backing musicians, Seymour served as the main singer, guitarist, and songwriter. Tasty vocal melodies, emotive love songs, and dynamic guitar power chords were the foundation of the band's cheerful-but-rockin' pop magic. Elements of vintage stuff by the Beatles, the Kinks, and Burt Bacharach are intertwined with more contemporary influences, such as Green Day, Foo Fighters, and Fountains of Wayne.
Over the last five years or so, Seymour released a handful of singles and demos that reflected his most sophisticated ideas for arrangements and instrumentation. Some of the songs on A Life in Letters, like the hook-filled "Hey, Kate" and the bombastic "It's Over" have been floating around since the band's big surge in the mid 2000s. They seem a bit out of place in a new package like this.
Seymour enlisted the skills of some of his longtime musical colleagues for the sessions that went into A Life in Letters. Drummers Tommy Hamer, Paolo Liccardi, and Aron Robinson and bassists Julian Volpe and Matt Schuessler provide most of the beefy rhythm section work. Studio production credits include Eric Bass, Sean O'Keefe, Jody Porter (of Fountains of Wayne), John Holbrook, and Nathan James.
Some of newer tunes in the set rock with a more refreshing snap. The jangly, Smithereens-esque "If Things Don't Look So Good Today" rolls along with a loose rhythm and a minor-key melancholic tone. Dense with layered guitars (some of which belong to Porter), tasteful special effects, and Hamer's neat wash of cymbal accents and snare drum fills, "3 O'Clock (So Long)" jumps with a more modern-rock vibe. Muscular, balanced, and cleverly polished, it's one of the strongest songs of the bunch. It's too bad the whole collection didn't boast such up-to-date liveliness. (thefireapes.com)