Sunday, 23 March 2014

Metronomy - Love Letters


Joseph Mount is going backwards with his sound, and that’s just the way he likes it. The more you look at recent promo shoots of him and his merry men (and woman) that are Metronomy - standing in their matching uniforms like they’ve taken a trip to the 1950’s and landed the best headline slot a Barbershop Convention could possibly offer - the more you understand why the Devon man, and lead architect to the four-piece’s musical identity, is seemingly going more and more retro. Mount however has his reasons; his view on reimagining contemporary pop-rock as one that lies in the past as opposed to the future; the mounted tumble of post-production and add-on’s rejected in favour of something crisp but conveniently wound-up…2011’s The English Riviera certainly gave credit to the band’s  pivoting at such bubbly minimalism. Funk-subtle guitars meshing with quirky, charismatic synthesizers were what helped pull it up - landing the band with a sound both quirky in its reflective melancholy (The Look) yet profoundly melodic (The Bay) at the same time. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that Love Letters - as both its name and its cover clearly portrays - is Mount at his most desired demographically; surrounding that same-vain 60’s aesthetic in both musical and cultural context, all of which now firmly tied down into the band’s established base for finely-shaven, well-presented electro pop. 

But it would be understandable, as is portrayed in Mount’s very first few lines - ‘I gotta beam this message to ya’/Straight from the satellite' - on opener The Upsetter, to expect this to be of exasperated deviation from previous efforts. Yet there’s no turning away from the track’s bubbly drum machines and exuberant delivery of said vocals from Mount, and find instead this record to be more an advancing (or attempt thereof) of Riviera's simplicity rather than something in all actuality new and independent of Mount's enthralling multi-takes on romance. Despite this, there are some interesting swatches of guitar melodies that are not of Mount's own execution - the closing awe of guitars and spacious bass a more definitive stand-out than Mount himself. So at this point, there is the potential to think that...just maybe...this is something altogether more profound and engrossing as a record. Without question the remaining band-mates (whom are no strangers to being positioned behind Mount's importance as opposed to alongside him as equals) still remain in that suspiciously grey area of will they/won't they be present. And with I'm Aquarius, aside from drummer Anna Prior's repetitous ushers of 'shoo doo doo ah', this is all-in-all a Mount solo rather than a Metronomy delivery. 

Not that I'm shocked at the notion that this is all Mount's ideas. If anything the quaint defeatism of the track's lyrics or the growing swell of synthesizer work, that cleverly plays as the track progresses, prooves Mount can find emotion in even the most bare-bone of electronic equipment. But there's no denying that in very much the same moments as these such album builds, there still lacks a degree of melodic or instrumental variance in what is a very low calibre synth pop moment. Monstrous is perhaps the first moment where this low calibre deliberance doesn't in fact project as much the same emotional or drenching impact on the listeners - the inflated backdrop and creeping lead melody feeling all in all like an over-stretched interlude rather than a fully-realized, full-length offering. Hence, even with the mopey, wallowing delivery of brass on Love Letters, the eventual scatter of energy in the track's jolly-jolly piano lead and percussion packs plenty of punch to be considered well-sought in its quirkiness, but also impetuous in its structural build. And even if Mount delves once more into that favourite field of his with little-to-no obscuring, amidst the track's lyrics, he wonderfully encapsulates that cheery, endearing mentality of 50's/60's music in a way that is by no means insulting or even embarrassing. 

The endearing quality is one that Metronomy (or Mount alone depending on your perception) use to full fruition, and it's pleasing to see this transition over onto following track Month Of Sundays which finds that same collective conscious of melodic instrumentation afused with a slower groove of bass guitar and cymbal taps - Prior's own encore of vocals this time delivering a greater punch amidst the soaring guitar riffs and Mount's former to-and-fro waviness of lyrics. With all Metronomy albums it's inevitable that there comes a point where Mount's search for true quirkiness comes full circle, and it appears no less than in the four-minute instrumental Boy Racers with its bubbly synth groove and drumbeats leading us into one of Mount's most surreal visions of past pop. But don't be surprised to find your focus wavering between the moody backdrop and the track's extra-terrestrial cipher of electronics, and wonder if this is in fact Metronomy or the soundtrack to some B-list 60's sci-fi flick...or even a build-up to some manic Thunderbirds offering. Though repetitive and lesser in developing anything further than its opening monologue, it shows Mount willing to move to slightly less conventional territory to amass some means of sonic tension.

So it's a shame that this dizzying withdrawal is vented less convincingly, be it in the mopey synth lines of Call Me - of which is a victim of its own lack of engagement - or The Most Immaculate Haircut's vague attempt at striking some compassionate melody to draw us in. More-so in the latter's case, Mount's continued strive to push on us this more and more refined painstaking of love in what should be its truest form - 'Oh hush now, don't have a baby/Look at what you gave me/You can always grow, you know' - ends up destroying what textural interest there is...especially where moment of late evening stillness and distant water splashes offer a slight deviation in atmosphere away from Mount's dominant, but flat, delivery. While it does take away from the proficency and intrigue the other band members have offered previously, the singular synthesizer staple of Reservoir does credit Mount with some flavoursome use of simplicity in coaxing the song in a slightly more colourful array of texture. There's no getting away from the solitary loneliness of the track's build, but even with the lack of guitars or drums leading the way, Mount thankfully gives his romantic dispelling a rest in favor of the song's characture-like appearence. Never Wanted though incorporating the presence of guitars this time doesn't excuse or even dislodge the apparency of the track's hollowness. Fortunately what starts as a sound relatively encased by its notation, slowly opens up with tentative deliveries of percussion and sparkling synthesizers reluctantly, if not fully, bringing the track's atmosphere out of hiding.

But these moments of salvation and strive to breathe life into but a fraction of previous tracks' assemble are ones that don't, in all, hide a despondant truth about Mount's method of simplification and extraction on Love Letters. The difference here, and one that strikes bafflement with what Riviera delivered, is that while the synthesizer choice and means to add colour and character to these songs remains, the charisma and drive to show Metronomy's music as not just this silly-little stage-show (and rather something much profounder and enduring either melodically or lyrically) is much lesser. Not that Joseph Mount and co don't proove themselves serious in their joyous ambition for grand, pompous-if-calculated deliveries, but successes such as these are in shorter supply than what they have been previous. In its place, Mount - rather than deviating from his apparent norm - reverts to copy-and-pasting the formula of romantic expression with little-to-no structural interest to keep listeners invested past the track's first sixty seconds. Love Letters was never going to be Mount's political record, nor was it to be a left-field turn in the road. But even as stern a concept arc this record holds firm grip to, most will likely come away expecting something a little more richer in detail, but ultmately, not as indulgent as Mount appears in parts.
~Jordan Helm

6.6

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