South African singer-songwriter Chris Letcher came out of nowhere with his fantastic debut, Frieze, in 2007, a record of huge musical scope and even huger humanity. The good news is that the three new songs on the digital-only Harmonium EP are every bit as inventive as the ones on Frieze. Digital whirring and chiming piano that's reminiscent of the Books' work power the nonlinear title track till it explodes midway into shards of guitar skronk and percussion bashing. “Scenes” and “Parker” offer harder-rocking choruses and grander arrangements than we’ve heard from Letcher before.
Not-as-good news is that the remainder of the EP undershoots the usual filler we’d expect from a stopgap release by offering inferior alternate versions of cuts from Frieze. “I Was Awake” was one of the less interesting songs on the album, and the addition of a heavier rhythm track does nothing to change that. A radio edit of “Milk” neuters the album version’s bulging dynamic shifts and adds a listless drumbeat most of the way through -- a classic tactic for radio bids that tugs this left-of-center artist toward the middle.
But Letcher’s songwriting and impassioned delivery shine through the problems with rearrangements, which presents a disappointing paradox: The more acquainted you are with Letcher’s back catalog, the less likely you are to enjoy the Harmonium EP.
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