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. It shouldn’t work, but the end result – probably due to mainman Joe Mount’s Midas fingers – is spectacular.
Wisely scheduled not to coincide with the insane release week of St Vincent, Beck, Neneh Cherry and Wild Beasts, 2014’s other hugely-awaited LP comes bearing a multitude of ’60s and ’70s hallmarks. Take the cover for instance, which looks as if Terry Gilliam agreed to doodle for them and didn’t have time to complete his vision. There’s also smidgens of classic R&B, soul and pop within Love Letters, making for a record that, while a decisive lunge forward for the group, is deeply ingrained in yesteryear. Yet it’s not just a record that nods or nudges to days of yore, but one that sonically pines for the past in a kind of cardiac arrest nostalgia that makes you swoon and grip your chest.
For the most part, Love Letters is a kind of vintage 4am pop; it’s the kind of thing you might stay awake for hours listening to in the garage whilst your parents slept. Shuffling into focus, The Upsetter revs up the record. It sounds super raw, like an early demo – a feeling that rarely subsides. Whether that is deliberate or an unintended by-product of the recording process and lo-fi compositions is moot, ’cause it’s all still pretty potent. Brilliantly titled track The Most Immaculate Haircut twinkles, with late-night guitars and prominent basslines slipping together, all caffeinated and red-eyed. It’s polished and sparse, and even during Mount’s fizzing falsetto in the chorus, the effort is malnourished; it’s pared down, perhaps a little too much to feel any warmth, in what should be a rousing heart-tugger.
Monstrous is a vast contrast. Harpsichords and baroque-pop synths pirouette together in rhythmic, romantic (the era of music) harmony. “Hold your hair back if you feel unwell… do you?/ Every night’s the mark of a new day, and every day’s the mark of something new…” croons a Bee Gees-y Mount through the subdued, chamber-goth backing. Boy Racers is another cut that ignites elevated intrigue. As an instrumental, it’s a lingering remnant of Mount’s days as a purveyor of cutting-edge dance music, before he began vying for our hearts and minds with intellectual, stunning pop. It’s still vintage, with disco/funk bass and aged synths, but it’s also distinctly dance music. These two tracks are more noticeable, not because they’re inherently better, but because they shake up Mount’s new formula. They showcase a breadth to Metronomy’s new style that’s not explored to its fullest on Love Letters. Whether that’s an oversight, or we’re getting more Metronomy than we bargained for this year, remains to be seen.
Love Letters is great. There’s potential here, and it feels like it had the ability to be a nigh-on perfect record, but for reasons obscured – probably the brick-subtle lo-fi-ness – it feels unfinished. It’s like a final draft. Fuller textures, more heart and enhanced depth (not lyrically, but sonically) would’ve done this collection wonders, as when they do actually do those things, as on Monstrous, I’m Aquarius and Boy Racer, they thrive, forcing us to salivate like Pavlov’s’ dogs. Yet there are not enough such moments to satiate our appetite; while the record’s definitely great, they miss a golden opportunity to create something bigger still.