Release Date: Mar 11, 2014
Record label: Elektra
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Club/Dance, Indie Electronic
A lot has changed since Metronomy delivered 2011’s The English Riviera. New bands emerged, successfully recreating the UK outfit’s critically acclaimed breed of electro-pop-slash-rock. Their latest endeavor Love Letters has rough patches, starting with the falsetto opener “The Upsetter,” moving right into the follow-up “I’m Aquarius.” Metronomy has never been about particularly stellar vocals, rather it’s the sum of their parts that keep us here.
When last we saw Metronomy, they were strolling rakishly into the golden light of a Torbay sunset, a Mercury nomination in their back pocket and sales of their third album racking up like rows of cherries on a one-armed-bandit slot machine. The success of ‘The English Riviera’ could hardly have happened to a more deserving band, but anyone expecting ‘Love Letters’ to pick up where its predecessor’s tongue-in-cheek vision of seaside glamour left off will be disappointed. “Back out on the riviera, it gets so cold at night”, yelps a forlorn-sounding Joseph Mount on opener ‘The Upsetter’, a song that drops references to early-’90s cultural touchstones like Tasmin Archer, Whitney Houston and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, but whose droning atmosphere of dislocation and anxiety has more in common with David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ than Archer’s ‘Sleeping Satellite’.
Given the critical and commercial success of The English Riviera, Metronomy could have easily spent another album or two expanding on its polished, erudite pop. However, they're too mercurial a band to do the obvious thing. On Love Letters, they abandon their previous album's sleek precision for fuzzy analog charm. Metronomy recorded the album at London's Toe Rag studio, a fixture of British indie rock, and Joe Mount and company imbue these songs with the room's warmth and intimacy.
Hearing Metronomy's debut album, Pip Paine (Pay The £500 You Owe), in 2006, there was no reason to expect Joseph Mount would blossom into a Mercury Prize-nominated artist. That album's slapdash, junkshop sounds were little indication of where he'd be by album number four.But after releasing two albums of unique, inventive pop — 2008's Nights Out and 2011's The English Riviera — Mount has become one of British music's most exciting songwriters and producers. Love Letters arrives after an incredible run with Riviera, and shows that Metronomy are determined to remain distinctive and progressive with their music.Despite opening a tour for Coldplay, Metronomy haven't made any sudden moves to trump their former tour mates.
It’d be easy to say that Love Letters may surprise Metronomy fans, such is the sonic shift from previous album ‘The English Riviera’. Gone is the minimalist, smart synthwork to be replaced by a new sound (well one that borrows from the 60s and 70s). That is until you realise that life as a Metronomy fans means accepting that there’s no one style that defines Joe Mount’s band.‘The English Riviera’ was Metronomy’s most successful album yet – Mercury-nominated and critically lauded.
The indie-pop world’s most cherished darlings have come in from the cold. Metronomy, after not releasing much since 2011’s The English Riviera, galloped back into our periphery ice-cool and bearing arms. Their triumphant return, Love Letters, is a far cry from the pop-smothered electronics on their last album, with the first snippet of the Devonshire foursome’s new material sounding like an infuriatingly everchanging melting pot of Fight Club OST drum machines, ’60s motown backing vox, lo-fi pop and the rickety click-clack of barebones ’80s electronica, probably helped by the analog fanatics at Toe Rag.
I don't know many people that send postcards anymore, but you get the sense that Joe Mount would write a bloody good one. If The English Riviera was a lovingly weaved ode to a vibrant utopia, Love Letters, its predecessor and Metronomy's fourth full-length offering, is a return to the same shores, but under much darker skies. Fractured relationships, murky, lovelorn lusting and long distance dumping have seemingly informed the band's most poignant LP, firmly dissolving their thirst for heady disco stompers and pound shop push lights adorning the chest.
On The English Riviera and Nights Out, Joe Mount, the main creative force behind Metronomy, seemed to be working to a specific purpose: transforming what indie rock could be by bathing it in the glamour of disco, '80s synth pop and contemporary R&B. Mount is a diligent student of songcraft in the brainy, British tradition of Prefab Sprout or Scritti Politti, and his best tracks, such as "Heartbreaker" and "The Bay," were indie-dance classics, at once euphoric and melancholic. Love Letters is a subtly but significantly different album.
“I’m back out on the Riviera”, Joseph Mount sings on “The Upsetter”, the first track on Metronomy’s new album, Love Letters. The line is, of course, a coy reference to The English Riviera, Metronomy’s breakthrough 2011 album. It is also a bit of chicanery, because Love Letters is actually quite a departure from its predecessor. After such a critical and commercial corner has been turned, a band must decide what to do next.
Metronomy could be held up a shining example of how bands can still evolve and grow in the internet age. Joe Mount’s project went from an instrumental electronic bedroom project to the silver-selling, Mercury-nominated, Brixton Academy-selling out The English Riviera. All of this leaves Love Letters perfectly poised to continue that upward trajectory and leave Mount dining at the top table of British music.
Metronomy sell mopey moods by the seashore: The British synth-poppers' last album was called The English Riviera, and now and then on their new one you even hear people splashing around. Love Letters opens with "The Upsetter," sounding like a message from some place stuck in 1992; the music starts out emaciated, but gets lusher as Joseph Mount reaches for his space-glitter falsetto. His zodiac kitsch in "I'm Aquarius" picks up steam too, and sweet Italodisco beach balls "Boy Racers" and "Reservoir" balance out wet-blanket ballads like "Call Me." Mostly miserable on their perpetual holiday, Metronomy at least manage to let some sunshine in.
The difficulty of sustaining long-distance relationships isn't a hardship exclusive to touring musicians. But the workers in song know all about divided loyalties, about following one's muse to play to half-empty hockey stadiums in North America (as Metronomy did with Coldplay in 2012) while leaving an inspiration of flesh and bone behind; about affection foundering on the time zone differential. Love Letters is one of those records – born, paradoxically, of a musician's wildest dreams – one that takes the enforced distances of musical success and uses them as a backdrop for all sorts of misadventures of the heart.
While Alex Turner has been slowly easing his frame into the flesh-suit of an American 17-year-old from the 1950s, the reputation of the fey English frontman has been sustained almost entirely by Metronomy's Joe Mount. It is perhaps testament to his unwitting dedication to being coy and British that Love Letters is the quartet's most indie and foppish-sounding album yet: a string of lo-fi pop songs about heartache eccentrically nuanced with a new-wave groove. The winsome Most Immaculate Haircut is a sweet vignette to insecurity, and The Upsetter is just as wobbly-lipped as its title suggests, Mount meowing mopishly: "Why you giving me a hard time tonight?" In contrast, drummer Anna Prior's soulful backing vocals are glorious, and as her voice blossoms on Month of Sundays with the rapture of Minnie Riperton's Les Fleurs, it almost seems a shame that she doesn't nudge Mount off his podium more often.
Joseph Mount just can't stay tethered to a moment. Metronomy's 2008 LP Nights Out was the headlong dive into pop's peak-coke gloss, archly tweaking disco, new wave, and all points in between. Three years later, Mount dusted off some old vintage navy blazer and got yacht-rockish for The English Riviera, trading California beaches for the boardwalks of English seaside resorts and almost pulling off the integration.
Theoretically, a band should pinnacle with its third record, perfecting the sound that was debuted on their first and reinforced by their second. The fourth record, then, would need to offer a significant change, or else things could get stuck in neutral. That pitfall isn’t the exact issue with Love Letters, Metronomy’s fourth record, but in a twisted way, it’s both better and worse.
Love Letters is Metronomy’s most assured album to date, though far from their loudest. The album starts with a pained whimper on “The Upsetter” which sees Joe Mount in a newfound meditative state, reminiscing about listening to Prince and Deacon Blue. “We live in 1992 here/Playing Sleeping Satellite” he nostalgically intones. However, it is the track’s sonic sparseness that sets the album’s tone as Mount’s broken coo is flanked only by a drum machine and mournful organ.
The sunny days seem to have grown deceptively cold outside Metronomy’s window. While their 2011 Mercury Prize-nominated album, The English Riviera, was an ode to British shorelines and sandy beaches, their fourth full-length album, Love Letters, shows the Devon-based quartet at their most nostalgic yet. Full of inventiveness, the record noticeably tamps the tempos in order to reveal a more intriguing, if less catchy and quirky, melange of melodies that disclose yet another facet from Metronomy’s array of sounds.
opinion byBRENDAN FRANK Nearly every song on Love Letters finds Metronomy’s singer Joe Mount speaking to a specific person. Despite the title of his band’s follow-up to their Mercury Prize-nominated album, The English Riviera, there aren’t as many swooning declarations as there are last ditch attempts to resuscitate something the writer knows is dying. Love Letters is indifferent to the honeymoon phase; this is the tail end of the equation, explored through close-up shots and case studies.
For all that Metronomy's 2011 album The English Riviera was compared with Steely Dan and Fleetwood Mac on its release - the critical idée reçu being that it channeled both of these heavyweights of 70s AOR - the truth is that it actually sounds nothing like either of these bands (who don't sound all that much like each other in any case). Go on, crack open your streaming service of choice and compare 'The Look' with, say, 'Peg' or 'Go Your Own Way'. While it's clear that The English Riviera has taken a few hints from the aforementioned, it's also clear that there's nothing derivative about it - it disregards the cruisy pleasures of Fleetwood Mac and Steely Dan for something nervier, reedier.