Metronomy main man Joseph Mount has been consistently scoring rave reviews ever since the fizzing bedroom electro of his 2006 debut, ‘Pip Paine (Pay The £5000 You Owe’), followed in 2008 by ‘Nights Out’ before ‘The English Riviera’ was named one of NME’s top albums of 2011. All of which makes the Paris-based star’s latest, ‘Love Letters’, one of 2014’s most highly anticipated records. “I feel like this record is as good, if not better, than anything I’ve done,” Mount told NME in October last year, explaining that becoming a parent had lent a more sophisticated slant to his song craft, now influenced by the Zombies and Sly and the Family Stone. Here’s how it stands up on first listen.
A bossa nova beat like something found on a dusty charity shop-bought Casio keyboard begins this melancholy opener, suggesting that despite the fame, acclaim and Mercury Prize recognition (‘The English Riviera’ was pipped to the award in 2011) he’s amassed in the years since ‘Pip Paine…’, Mount’s affection still lies with lo-fi sounds. “I should have known from the call that you let out/you’re not alone, but you’re still in love. And everyone says that I’m the upsetter,” he laments like a misunderstood home-wrecker in a fragile falsetto over scratchy acoustic guitar strums.
“You said our love was written in the stars/but I never paid attention to my charts”. Not one for horoscopes, our Joseph, whose lovelorn lyrics on ‘I’m Aquarius’ – released as a single in late 2013 – are pitched upon a backdrop of sad organ drones, cheap keyboard beats and ’60s soul “shoop doop doop ahh!” vocals. Think Hot Chip on a miserable comedown, flanked by Motown singers. There are glints of Mount’s subtle humour amidst the rubble of the broken romance he’s describing: “Never thought about it sentimentally/never saw just how much you meant to me/never learnt about it at university.”
“I can never stop from listening in/and someone’s left a car engine running/every nights the mark of a new day/ and every day’s the start of something new,” Mount croons to more rough-‘n’-ready electronics, including a spiraling, smouldering synth line like something out of an ’80s Latino day time TV soap. Three tracks in, the impact of Metronomy’s choice to record at Toe Rag studios in London, famous for its analogue desk and traditional equipment, is being keenly felt.
The group channel classic Dexy’s Midnight Runners on this title track, delivering a sugary rush of seismic ’70s pop hooks and catchy melodies after a funereal brass intro. The record’s most upbeat and infectious moment so far, if also its most hilariously melodramatic: “love letters all I see, on every day I read, bits of yellow paper, addressed from you to me.” Forget literal romance – with its snappy rhythm and brilliantly overblown accompaniment, this feels like a love letter to Kevin Rowland.
Month of Sundays
Gently flickering guitars guide this slow, sauntering cut, with echoes of ’60s LA psych scene favourites The Byrds in its cool, crisp vocal harmonies, wonky bass work and affecting simplicity. “Never in a month of Sundays,” chime backing vocalists over a wandering guitar solo as the song climaxes. At 3:27, it’s one of the albums most direct and fun moments.
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Turning away from the ’60s rock vibe of ‘Month of Sundays’, pulsating instrumental ‘Boy Racers’ delivers squelching ’80s arcade game synth lines, hand claps and strange, echoing zither sounds, before a warped guitar solo that pitches the track somewhere between St. Vincent, LCD Soundsystem, Devo and Blade Runner composer Vangelis. Eclectic.
“Call up on me/we all need company/call me, Valentine,” implores Mount softly as the album enters its final stretch. Minimalist and melancholy, it ends in passionate, desperate calls of “we can try anything/we can say we’ll try anything,” like a lover hanging onto a relationship despite knowing its fate is doomed.
The Most Immaculate Haircut
“He’s got the most immaculate haircut, and with the right dye and shampoo maybe I could do too,” sings Mount on what would be a laugh-out-loud moment but for the track’s wistful guitars. The song starts off with a dirty electronic beat and gritty picked guitars, sort of like what you’d imagine latter-day Radiohead sounding like if they ditched Nigel Godrich to record in Thom Yorke’s basement instead, on equipment discovered on a dig through his old auntie’s attic. It soon segues into another ’60s psychedelic moment, with strains of fellow psych revivalists Unknown Mortal Orchestra, while the keyboard solo is pure, unadulterated Zombies. “I get this feeling in my bones sometimes/it’s like my legs might fall away,” goes its addictive chorus.
More bleeping analogue keyboard melodies on this penultimate track. “I heard you made the hull of a boat down town/I heard you get a job at the builder’s yard/but we should never say that we drifted far/we should never say that we drifted far/yeah we should take a trip to the reservoir,” Mount sings, painting a picture of old friends that strangely evokes the tattered friendships of Stand By Me. Haywire synths see the song out, alongside icy nautical electronic echoes.
Almost entirely guitar and vocals, ‘Never Wanted’ is ‘Love Letters” most stripped back and arguably honest moments – it sounds as though Mount is recounting a bored night in another anodyne hotel room, worn out by life on the road in Metronomy. “Mini bar with many choices/bedside table/distant voices/but it gets better,” Tellingly, doubt creeps in and that last lines changes to something more sinister: “does it get better?” As intentive, time-travelling retro pop goes, it doesn’t get much better than this.