Electro-pop band Metronomy’s latest album, “Love Letters,” features diverse, playful music and the band’s wide vocal and tonal range, which makes it hard to pinpoint the album’s sound. These shifts in tone startle listeners and elicit the question: What kind of sick game is going on here? It is evidently geared toward making the listener acutely and delightfully uncomfortable, perhaps sinking the listener into the washed-out scene of a bizarre English dramedy about painfully awkward young lovers. Lead singer and multi-instrumentalist Joseph Mount, who founded Metronomy as a side project in 1999 after having had stints with various other small bands that were all torn apart by his ex-girlfriends, is certainly no stranger to the trials and tribulations of romance.
While Metronomy’s first three albums lacked both cohesiveness and consistency, “Love Letters” maintains a surreal and nervously desperate tone and theme. The songs all deal with the similar topics of romance, unrequited love, and communication issues. However, the band’s instrumental and vocal approach to the album’s theme varies in each song, and so do their results.
Diversity is both a strength and weakness for Metronomy, as some of their songs are much more texturally and lyrically rich than others. Opening track “The Upsetter” begins with Mount howling over a simple, unimposing beat. While the band has the musical talent to let their instruments do all of the work, the opening track is more about establishing the main recurring voice of the album—a desperate lover with a message for his beloved that he wants to beam to her over satellites. Then we get a bizarre voice that may be a man’s and may be a woman’s—we only know that, in the context of the song, it must be the other’s response. A nostalgic guitar riff comes in towards the end of the song, the plethora of sounds and voices comes to a close, and the tone of this wild ride is set.
In contrast to the bland instrumentals and vocals of tracks like “The Most Immaculate Haircut,” an eerie synthesizer opens “Monstrous” and continues muted for the entirety of the song as the rhyme and steady metrical pattern of the lyrics hit the mark beautifully. Mount sings, “Hold on tight to everything you love / Honestly it’s all that I care about,” and it sticks in the listener’s ear. But even this grows old as the insecurity of the song becomes palpable in the rigidly imposed structure of the desperate lyrics.
Metronomy asserts its musical prowess in opening many of the songs. such as “Boy Racers” and the titular “Love Letters,” with lengthy instrumentals that make the vocals feel unwelcome. Though not the highlight of the album, the vocals are certainly intriguing. As the content of the “love letters” is sometimes self-indulgent but often endearing, this is a mostly positive ambivalence. The persistent discomfort at this messy Pollock-like splatter of emotion, highlighted in tracks such as “Love Letters,” adds to the profound experience of the album. This amalgam of love letters that make up the album can be awkward, melancholic, and timid but remains interesting rather than frustrating, beautiful rather than cliché.
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