Chris Letcher's latest album, Frieze, is an elegant, eclectic chamber-pop masterpiece. Released in September, it's a beautifully orchestrated amalgam of delicate melodies, varied instrumentation and literate, wryly comic lyrics.

"Recording it was a very enjoyable process. We made it without a deal or anything," says the genial South African. "We were just making music for ourselves on a shoestring - lots of bedroom recordings, making do with what we could find."

Although British audiences are only just discovering Letcher, Frieze has already been warmly received in the US, where it has been championed by college radio and the eMusic website. Many American critics have praised the album's blend of the expansive and the intimate.

"I suppose our music is intentionally direct and human, in terms of the emotional side of it," says Letcher. "The other part of it comes from my work in film soundtracks, where you could be asked to do anything from a big orchestral piece to whatever rock or pop or electronic type of scores they may be after.

"That kind of experience has helped widen the palette of sounds from a typical, guitar-based style."

Letcher achieved a degree of stardom in his native South Africa with his first band, Urban Creep, although the self-effacing singer claims it was "a very small scene there, so it wasn't difficult to stick your head up". He then formed an acoustic duo, which he says taught him a great deal about songwriting, before moving to London to take a course at Trinity College.

He is now halfway through completing a PhD at the Royal College Of Music, where he also teaches.

"Maybe the study was just something I latched onto as a way of breaking out of the rut I was in in South Africa," he says. "You feel a bit more in touch over here, in some ways, than you do in South Africa, which can feel a bit far from the centre of things musically.

He admits his academic research is now proceeding "very slowly" after the unexpected success of Frieze.

"It's been amazingly well received by bloggers and columnists and reviewers. Better than I ever would have imagined," he says.

"For an album we didn't really expect to get out there, which we made for ourselves and to give to friends, it's been fantastic."

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