metronomy

Surveying Metronomy’s career, it’s hard to believe that ‘Love Letters’ is the work of the same man who made ‘Pip Paine (Pay the £5,000 You Owe)’; this album so far removed from the fumbling pop-tronic glitches of that 2006 debut. Of course, in many respects Metronomy isn’t the same project, these days a full band on stage, yet in the studio Joseph Mount still likes to work alone.

If second album ‘Nights Out’ made us sit up and take notice of Mount’s synth-pop eclecticism, his 2011 Mercury-nominated follow-up saw Metronomy stretch far beyond the confines of bedroom production. ‘The English Riviera’ – based around an idealised vision of Mount’s childhood home on the Devon coast – took the term ‘sea-change’ to a fitting conclusion, morphing his ebullient but niche electronica into unexpected realms of avant-garde romanticism. And with this string of consecutively ambitious albums in his wake, it’s hard not to feel a little trepidatious as you approach fourth album ‘Love Letters’.

Certainly on initial listen, it might feel rather safe for a musician who has been so tireless in his progression; opening with a triptych of simple tunes, awash with programmed drums and minimal atmospherics. But scratch the surface and you’ll discover there’s a subtle complexity at work here; gentle acoustic campfire strum-a-longs dissolving into moon-dappled blues (‘The Upsetter’); star-crossed lovers drenched in winsome doo-wop vocals (‘I’m Aquarius’); ominous rococo synths soundtracking moments of quiet drama on indie dancefloors (‘Monstrous’). These tracks, deceptively slight at first, are amongst Metronomy’s most compelling to date; like subtle tears in muscle, it’s the minor shifts that serve to hone and strengthen Joe Mount’s sound.

Single ‘Love Letters’ arrives abruptly in a blast of pomp and ceremony; brimming with live percussion, a garrulous barroom piano, four-to-the-floor beats and soulful trumpets. It should be the apex of the record, but in many respects the entire album is constructed from moments of unexpected thrill. Whether that’s in the angular jangle on ‘Month Of Sundays’ – which blends pop with the fizz of rambling post-punk guitars – the darkly seductive bubble of ‘Call Me’, where Mount pleads, “We can get better/We can do anything” over foreboding digital bass and spidery piano, or in the album’s sole instrumental – ‘Boy Racers’: a song that feels almost incidental at first, but shudders with a buoyant motorik that dominates the centre of the album.

Of course, it’s not flawless, not quite – ‘Most Immaculate Haircut’ feels a little throwaway, despite Mount’s impassioned vocals, but this is a minor gripe, especially, when it’s followed by the dazzling pop wonder of ‘Reservoir’ and ‘Never Wanted’, the latter closing out the album on a surprisingly stark note.
Doing away with conceptual conceits that supported the paradigm shifts of previous outings, ‘Love Letters’ is the sound of a man with vital new confidence. It sees Joe Mount taking time to finesse the familiar into something rich and exceptional, elevating his lyrics and off-kilter music to a rarely more affecting state, while incorporating the very best elements of his early work.

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