Austin is not known for its synth-pop bands. In a city teeming with folksy singer-songwriters and crusty rockers that probably should have aged out a few years ago, there’s nothing more refreshing than the sound of dreamy, effervescent electronic pop courtesy of Letting Up Despite Great Faults.
Letting Up Despite Great Faults is a four-piece synth-pop band originally from Los Angeles. Mike Lee, an L.A. native and recent Austin transplant, founded the band in 2006. The project initially came about as a hobby but turned into something much more.
“I did music as a kid,” Lee said. “I was in bands in high school and junior high, but it never occurred to me that I should really pursue it. Once I really started to write my own stuff, it was a totally different feeling. When you’re in school, you’re always deconstructing stuff. You’re always trying to analyze and I never felt like I was really great at that. I wanted to be the one creating it. I guess it wasn’t until that point, and it wasn’t even ‘Oh I want to be a musician,’ I just needed some time to write songs.”
Lee (vocals, guitar) and Kent Zambrana (bass) have been in the band since from the beginning. Austinites Annah Fisette (keyboards, vocals) and Daniel Schmidt (drums) were added to round out the band’s lineup in early this year. Lee relocated to Austin just last February to join Zambrana, who had returned to Austin two years earlier.
“For almost two years, we had a long-distance relationship, which are always hard,” Lee said. “It just got to a point in my life where nothing was tying me down to LA anymore. With work and relationships, I guess I was kind of free. We got super lucky and found Annah and Daniel and I consider them to be my
close friends now.”
Following 2009’s self-titled full length album, Letting Up released Untogether in October 2012. Untogether is the musical equivalent of Crystal Castles and M83’s love child; Crystal Castles passed on its hypnotizing synth hooks and M83 passed on its youthful haziness. The synth is poppy, the guitar is shoegaze-y and the vocals are hushed, almost in a whisper at times.
The record sounds like being in high school, but in a good way. Remember walking around the hallways while staring at your shoes, wondering if your crush in English class even knows you’re alive, forever playing a hazy melody in your mind? “Take My Jacket, Pauline” is that melody. The shoegaze guitars meander through Lee’s
“It’s more like an organized diary,” Lee said. “They’re all entries. If I listen to an old song, I know what I was going through or what I was trying to think about. They’re just really organized ideas that I have of my life.”
This organization is apparent throughout Untogether. While Letting Up’s sound is reminiscent of youth, they avoid musical immaturity. Every sound is intentional. Every synth whoosh and drum machine hit seems to be perfectly in place. Lyrics are biting at times. “Postcard” is a rush of electronic noise that clears up in time to bare Lee’s voice as he sings,
“The lights are on but I can’t believe you said those things to me.”
The album’s precision does not sound entirely effortless though. Songs like “Breaking” and “Numbered Days” are so full of sounds that they muddle the lyrics and second-guess the songs’ directions.
Second-guessing seems to be a habit for Lee, who chose the band name as a self-deprecating reminder to, well, not second-guess himself.
“I’m really hard on myself, so the ‘great faults’ are definitely pointed towards me,” Lee said. “It was just letting up on the idea that you may not be the best or on the fact that you suck. Just don’t worry about it.”
Letting Up Despite Great Faults will be playing Dec. 14 at The Parish Underground.
Printed on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012 as: Band brings synth-pop to Austin music scene