In Review: Letters To The Moon – Theme Party

When I was 12 years old a trio of pre-pubescent boys took my middle school’s stage during the spring talent show and performed Lit’s “My Own Worst Enemy”. Ten years and five full length independent releases later Columbus, Ohio’s favorite d.i.y power punk outfit, Delay, is still playing for kids all across America (and Europe, too). When they’re home Austin, Ryan and Jesse are working stiffs by day and heralds of an ever expanding d.i.y community of love, acceptance, and most of all independent music by night. It’s no wonder that after years of hosting some of the most creative and raw d.i.y musicians [see: Andrew Jackson Jihad and Paul Baribeau] in his living room, that sometimes lead singer and guitarist, Ryan J. would start to crave something different. Or, at least, that’s what I’ve always imagined was the driving force behind  Letters to the Moon – Ryan’s acoustic side project with long time friend and fellow Columbus scenester, Lisa D.

This winter marked the sophomore release of LTTM’s playfully named “Theme Party”. In true community spirit, the albums collaged art was created by artist and bloggist friend Jimi and screen printed by Lisa’s beau Pat of Shout Out Loud Prints. From typewritten lyric insert to ninja turtle-esque drawings of Ryan and Lisa the album screams “Let’s have fun and not take it so seriously”. Which is exactly what the 14-track, 27-minute LP does.
Though Ryan’s honest, sincere, and nostalgic lyrics remain, “Theme Party” brings a sign of serious  growth and maturity, thanks to more complex melodies and the tasteful addition of a few extra instruments. Each track comes across as gentler and more carefully crafted than those on the debut, as it seems Ryan has become comfortable in his folk shoes.
Lisa’s voice rings like an adorable bell at opener “Dead Skin”, and hangs above Ryan’s in harmony for the remainder of the album, though she seems to have significantly less solo time on this record. As the songwriter, Ryan’s voice is the natural choice for the record’s narration, though his at times shaky voice can be a turn off for first time listeners. But as I’ve learned from my favorite songwriters, an imperfect voice tends to deliver the most intimate of messages once you’ve tuned your ear to it, and Ryan J. is no exception.
“Dead Skin” drifts sweetly into “Earl Grey”, a delicately played track that hosts a warm piano outro. Before you can wonder if the album will sound nothing like its predecessor, “This Old House” storms in with classic LTTM style – fast paced power pop and harmonies sweeter than birthday cake. Batting cleanup is “You Are Like Me”, one of the records standout tracks, with its innocent “oohs” and what I think are the albums strongest lyrics (last time I sang I was out in the rain/to prove to the storm my voice is powerful). 
The use of electric guitar in “Young Man” comes as a surprise, though it seems to work almost as well as Ryan’s metaphor of a heart being carried in a shoe box kicked across town. I have a special preference to “Berea, Ohio”, a love song to the hometown we share where Ryan’s vocals seem to shine over a country-folk riff. I’m still trying to decide whether all the ghostly background sounds are coming from Lisa. “Purple Heart Merit Badge” does its best work when “be like we used to be” is sung between the two over soft guitar tapping. 
The downfall of “Theme Party” is easily track 8, “Father; Son”. Although folk music is the perfect landscape for cultural finger pointing, the blatant literal reference to Jesus, Christians, and Right Winger’s cheapens the message. “Hold” is another sweet track, although the notes hit too high for Ryan’s comfort. The second standout track of this album is easily “Degrees of Separation”, an angry, lightning fast rant that hits Ryan’s favorite theme – lost love. The theme continues into “Remember Me?”, with lyrics so personal and sad it feels like an invasion of privacy. 
Both “Make Me Move” and “Knockemstiff” have ample amounts of catchiness, though they fade beneath the shine of the last track “Lullaby”, which is exactly that. Coupled with what sounds like a glockenspiel, Ryan croons an adorable bedtime song which closes the album off perfectly with a “Shh Shhh”.
Unfortunately, Ryan’s distaste for myspace makes finding more info on Letter to the Moon next to impossible, though his blog does seem to serve as the platform for the band’s website. Snail mail and a love letter can grab you your very own copy of “Theme Party”.

One response to “In Review: Letters To The Moon – Theme Party

  1. Pingback: Video Watch…Letters To The Moon – Shoplifter « Dust Sleeve

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