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. Mount lusts and mourns openly, and does his best to make sure that every word is audible. The unease and vulnerability are palpable. Even when this record finds a groove – which it does often – you can feel it digging in its heels in anticipation.
It’s sad to think that writing by hand has become a marginalized art, so perhaps it’s fitting that Love Letters was inspired by an era where paper and pen were still widely used. Recorded at the analog Toe Rag Studios in Hackney, Love Letters’ ten songs sound scrubbed out, as if you’re hearing a vinyl record that has been played a few too many times. Metronomy’s fondness for refurbishing dated sounds is as tenable as ever. The production’s latent 60s pop vibe rarely relents, but it suits them nicely, almost to a fault.
Though its second half suffers by comparison, Love Letters sure does know how to make an entrance. “The Upsetter” is a disciple of Ziggy Stardust, with plunging acoustic strums and warbly falsetto vocals that take a left turn towards a starry-eyed classic rock guitar solo. Lead single “I’m Aquarius” is delivered deadpan, its anxious melodies the ideal vessel for Mount’s skill as a storyteller: “And now I see how quick you must want to forget/Cause you left the ring I bought you with your cigarettes”. The unease continues into “Monstrous”, where Mount warns everyone to “Hold on tight to everything you love”.
If the first three tracks are passive-aggressively on edge, the title track does all it can to lighten the mood. As Mount pines for an anonymous someone overseas, piano jabs ring out in major key and an irritatingly catchy choral harmony tips its hat to The Shangri-Las, The Blossoms, et al. Consequently, “Love Letters” proves to be the total retro package, its emotional content neatly complimented by the box it comes in.
From there, things get a bit proggier, finding the seam between post-punk and protosynth. The primordial sounds of New Order and Wire circa Chairs Missing are found on “Call Me” and “Month of Sundays”, respectively. Instrumental disco jam “Boy Racers”, which could be the score for a lost 70s sci-fi film, acts as a pivot between the album’s near-immaculate first half and its comparatively tame side B. “The Most Immaculate Haircut”, Love Letters’ only real nonstarter, plods along and fails to shed the grating tone it quickly establishes. From there, the twee “Reservoir” is classic caffeinated indie pop, one last jolt before the plaintive closer “Never Wanted”.
Despite the growth it signifies for Mount, and the candor with which he delivers it, Love Letters is so lightly sketched that it never fully engages on a gut level. Its peaks are amongst the best work the group has produced, but you can imagine that a little more punch behind the scenes would have really blown the lid off. Granted, Metronomy’s dressed-down aesthetic has always been a part of their appeal, but strangely enough, the lightness of touch here leaves Love Letters slightly out of focus. B