Review: The Last Letter (The Receptionists)

Liking semi-obscure bands is a mixed blessing. If they’re well represented on the web they’re likely to have a free sample or two. However, if they’re too obscure you can barely find any reference to them at all.

One other band I thought I’d mention, although precious little of them is on the web and no free music I can see, is The Receptionists.

The group is comprised of three women whose recording studios apparently consisted of largely of Vassar dorm rooms, and whose instruments of choice are guitar, accordian, bells, mandolin, and xylophone, supplimented with a large dose of whistle.

The Receptionists instrumental sound is a dissonent cacophony and reminds me alot of the NPR clip years back where a group of musicians made music on whittled out vegetables. On top of that their vocals are usually an off-key monotone.

But somehow with The Receptionists all the discord seems to fit together brilliantly. It’s like these girls really know their stuff but got bored perfecting the craft, maybe got larangitis, and one of ’em said, “Hey, let’s just break out the veggies and jam a bit.” And that was fine with everyone else.

This is a bit of an exaggeration though. There are a few of their songs that wouldn’t sound totally out of place in the medieval-reenacting female folk singer repitoire.

On Raphsody only their song Soren Loved Regina (apparently a reference to Soren Kierkegaard’s relationship with Regina Olsen) is available, and that only on a compilation “American Pop Style”. Cashing in a gift certificate recently netted me their only available Album The Last Letter, though supposedly there’s another set of their songs out there under the title of Keep Your Secrets.

Of the songs on The Last Letter, probably the most accessible is The Piracy of Saint Philomena, backed by accordion accompanyment. A few, like Soren Loved Regina and In Love Again are sweet. And others like the Laundry Song and Stamp Song are amusingly wrought micro-ballads about the ironies and injustices of life.

Unfortunately though it looks like their latest recordings on the Last Letter album were done in 1997. And since the first few pages of google searches turn up only a smattering of cursory reviews and advertisements for their work, I think it’s safe and sad to say that The Receptionists are now defunct.

12 thoughts on “Review: The Last Letter (The Receptionists)

  1. Sadly no. They’re apparently obscure enough that their actual music isn’t on the web.

    I heard *Soren Loved Regina* on Raphsody and liked it enough to buy The Last Letter off

    The few passing references I was able to google on them included this (includes a “where are they now”) and this (which just mentions other music of theirs I can’t track down).

    But I’ve ripped the album to our computer and I-pod by now, so if you want at some point maybe I can mail you the CD.

  2. Yeah – that would be really cool if you could do that.

    Side note – somebody said that you posted about Serenity, on one of the sites, but I can’t seem to find your comments. Did you? I was curious to see what you thought about it.

  3. I posted on Megan’s blog, but I didn’t say much ’cause I wasn’t sure if you guys’d seen it and didn’t want to spoil it. If you don’t care about that or have seen it then I’ll say more.

    I’ll see what I can do about the CD.

  4. Yeah – we’ve both seen it (last night). I sent you and email last night right after we did. I thought it was great. But I was curious to know what your thoughts on it were. I think Megan is going to do a long post on her site about it. I guess really the only thing I would say – is don’t post about it on the Protozoic site at least for another week (spoilers and what not) because Tim hasn’t seen it yet. With all the surprises that it had – I’d hate to ruin it for him.

    I will say this though – it along with *Land of the Dead* are going to be in my top 5 movies of 2005.

  5. Jen Simpson is my sister and I can confirm that the Receptionists have been defunct since they all graduated from Vassar in ’97. Jen is married and has a third child on the way and lives in Ireland. Lara and Tanya are recently married. For those who wonder, the whistle is a pennywhitle (tin/metal with a plastic mouthpiece). Jen had them in a number of keys for the various songs.

    Eventually, all rock stars grow up and settle into domestic life. Just look at Ozzy. πŸ˜‰

  6. Super-late by this point, but I interviewed Tanya and Lara in 1995 for my zine, Caught In Flux. I keep meaning to post a .pdf of it online, but so far haven’t had the time.

    Most of the Receptionists’ discography appears on The Last Letter. There are four additional tracks on the “Keep Your Secrets” 7″ on Harriet, and two more on Friendly Society, a Harriet Records compilation LP. One additional track, “Drinking Fountain,” appears on the debut 7″ but not The Last Letter.

    I was lucky enough to see them many times between 1996 and 1997. Even rode up to Vassar for their farewell show. They were an amazing band.

  7. Thanks receptionists.

    The Teen Love page has a couple songs that sound interesting.

    Wish more of these kinds of projects made it over to Rhapsody so it was easier (for me at least) to track down and listen to their whole albums.

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