Metronomy – Love Letters

"Back on the Riviera, it gets cold at night", so goes a line in the first track on 'Love Letters', Metronomy’s fourth studio album, and their first since 2011’s breakout affair 'The English Riviera'. Perhaps referring to the last album and his Devon coast upbringing (and a long lost teenage love affair), 'Love Letters' is for the most part a reflection of love and relationships, but brought up to the present – Metronomy’s Joseph Mount has lived in that City of Love, Paris, for the past four years, drawn there by love…
 
From the Prince influenced electro-glitch of 'Pip Paine' and 'Nights Out' to the more indie rock territory of 'The English Riviera' album, we’ve been witnessing the maturation of Mount and his music. 'Love Letters' is an (almost) grown up kind of record, certainly more reflective and soulful than ever, and one that speaks eloquently of affairs of the heart. It may be a little less playful than we are used to, but Joseph Mount continues to demonstrate an uncanny and subtle way with melody: on the surface there may be a nursery school feel about some of the music and lyrics, but let them wash over you a few times and the songs nuances, subtle dynamism and flow just seem to invariably work in its favour.
 
The first two songs immediately show off the new, grown up Metronomy; 'The Upsetter' features one of Mount’s best vocals, a passionate and soulful performance that is aided by a good old fashioned (and effects-free) guitar solo. While on The Aquarius, the sparse musical minimalism continues, this time given colour by a cascading keyboard. The downbeat hue continues with the baroque keyboards and vocals of 'Monstrous', conjuring up a passing imitation of Gary Numan, before plaintive trumpets give way to the super-jolly vibes of 'Love Letters'. It’s not a moment too soon, the pounding Motown beat along with 70s style Andrew Gold piano is the most obvious uplifting track on the album, an oasis on an album of generally atmospheric, slower paced numbers.
The early Cure vibe of 'Month of Sundays' is another delight, although Mount cannot resist the temptation to upset the straight forward pop classicism of the song with an abrasive and repeating chant of "never in a month of Sundays". The instrumental 'Boy Racers' evokes Kraftwerk, before abruptly segueing into 'Call Me'; Mount's vocal being tracked by a synth – perhaps the album’s weakest moment.
 
Many good albums slowly peter out as the end approaches and the well of creativity runs dry, not so with Metronomy, who save some of the best for last, beginning with contender for Song Title of the Year – 'The Most Immaculate Haircut' – a tune that features an inexplicable detour into the sound of cicadas and splashing water… This desire to occasionally upset the apple cart, to be wilfully arty and with a glint in the eye, usually works in their favour. It’s a big reason why many of us have taken Metronomy to our hearts; their lack of derisory sixth form poetry and po-faced musicality, along with the moments self-deprecation and humour. Without the songs this would all be meaningless, and Mount continues to deliver with 'Reservoir', which brings back the drum machine (the album is a good mix of acoustic drums and drum machines) and some tasteful and even electrifying synth patterns and splashes and then there’s the final track 'Never Wanted', a truly melancholic yet strangely uplifting way to end, with plucked bass merging with strummed guitar, and accompanied by the sound of an occasional passing car that adds that all-important Metronomy intrigue and playfulness. "Does it get better?" asks Mount. It may not.
Jeff Hemmings

Website: metronomy.co.uk
Facebook: facebook.com/metronomy
Twitter: twitter.com/metronomy

 

 

Blood Red Shoes – Blood Red Shoes

Blood Red Shoes fourth album opens with the instrumental track ‘Welcome Home’ which I like to think of as the sound of the band settling into the rented warehouse space in Berlin where they lived for several months last year recording the new album. Singer/drummer Steve Ansell explains the freedom they found themselves in after the decision to self-produce their third album; “no producer, no engineer, no A&R people, just us two in a big concrete room in Kreuzberg, jamming and recording our songs whenever we wanted, how we wanted with nobody to answer to except ourselves.”

 
Prior to this eponymous release the band have regularly worked with Mike Crossey who produced Arctic monkeys début single and first two albums, but they felt their last record, ‘In Time To Voices’ was almost too perfect and wanted to get back to their roots and some of the rawness and edge that defines their sound. The second track on the album ‘Everything All At Once’ certainly showcases this approach, it’s a real banger and a bit of a mission statement for the rest of the album with it’s hedonistic agenda, perhaps inspired by the crazy Berlin nights on offer.
 
The band talk about having widened the sound palette for this album, having previously stuck to the formula of two vocals, drums and guitar as much as possible on record as well as onstage to ensure they could deliver the songs live. On a first listen is sounds like they haven’t deviated too far from that blueprint, although the drums are beefier and the guitar sounds layered, thick and fuzzy, you seldom hear a bass sound that couldn’t be the result of a pitchshifter combined with the main guitar line. As you delve further into the album you become aware of some of the lovely subtle layers – there’s a cool atmospheric synth sound at the start of ‘Stranger’ and as it builds to an epic close it sounds like there might be some trumpets (or something tonally similar) at play in the distance.
 
They’ve made some great choices with the vocals as well. To my ears Laura-Mary is at her best when she’s soft and seductive which contrast really well with Steve when he’s raw and aggressive. Both are fine, versatile singers and they have used every option available to them with those voices; harmonies, all sorts of layering, slapback delay and gritty distortion; keeping the album interesting throughout. I think their voices and their skill with a melody gives Blood Red Shoes their real edge. Mix engineer John Agnello has done a fine job putting the final sheen on this album, and it’s interesting to note his roots are with acts like Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jnr, as musically Blood Red Shoes tend to recall American alternative rock and grunge acts. Still there’s a Britishness in those vocals which is inescapable, like a leaner, punchier Elastica.

The songs already released to the public are pulsating and powerful, ‘The Perfect Mess’ was revealed to fans through a clever campaign, hiding 10 QR codes in 10 different cities. It opens with a riff that reminds me, partly because of the crazy fuzz-guitar effect, of Le Tigre’s single ‘Deceptacon’ but the end result is far more polished. ‘An Animal’ is a pulsating, riff-driven romp with a hell of a chorus. A song about unleashing the animal ‘coiled like a spring’ that lies inside most of us, trapped in uniforms, denying our animal nature. It continues the overlying theme of the album: a new sense of wild freedom which the band are relishing,  in spite (or maybe because of) the threat of manic danger that comes with it. This is perfectly illustrated by the ‘Animal’ music video, but I won’t ruin it for you, just scroll down and watch it!
 
Overall the album sounds comfortable and confident and certainly worthy of the eponymous title, especially considering how much of themselves Steve Ansell and Laura Mary Carter must have poured into producing for the first time. They’ve really pulled it off and I hope this album helps catapult them to even greater success in the coming year. I sense another world tour coming on, let’s hope they don’t forget about us back home in Brighton!
Adam Kidd
 

Peggy Sue – Choir of Echoes

Peggy Sue - Choir of Echoes

In line with the album's title, Choir of Echoes begins with the funereal voices of Rosa Slade and Katy Young, the two friends who initially formed Peggy Sue & The Pirates in Brighton in 2005, setting the tone for this slightly brooding yet mesmerising third studio album.
 
Having largely ditched the twee-indie-folk style that got them off running in the mid-nougties, as well as dumping The Pirates part of their name, and the Kate Nash vocal stylings before it got too irritating, Peggy Sue have quietly gone about the business of developing as songwriters, singers and musicians, culminating in this, their best yet; a mature reflection on life through their eyes, but also an album about singing and the art and complexities of communication. For the most part, they sing in unison, their reverb-soaked harmonies forged through years of singing together, and to each other… you can't imagine one without the other, such is their subtle chemistry.
 
This time around, the percussive work of long time third member Olly Joyce is given more prominence, and his energetic yet intricate drum work lends many of the songs a depth and dynamism that has sometimes been lacking. Where sometimes Peggy Sue would get overly maudlin, musically speaking, Joyce's drums makes it sparkier, although there are still moments (thankfully very few and far between) when they fail to rise above a rhythmic depression, drowning a little in uninspiring self-wallowing.
 
But, taking their cue from their Peggy Sue Play the Songs of Scorpio Rising album of 2012 (their take on the original songs that were included in the original soundtrack to the Kenneth Auger cult movie), their love of doo-wop and early rock'n'roll has inspired the raucously dreamy song Longest Day of the Year Blues. Another standout is the short and sweet and beautifully named How Heavy The Quiet That Grew Between Your Mouth and Mine, a stripped back country-folk song that perhaps points to the future for Peggy Sue, a band who are in essence as traditional as Buddy Holly and the aforementioned doo-wop; very little but guitars, drums and voices feature throughout, a master class of economy and song craft from this most unassuming of bands.
 
Out 27 Jan 2014
 
They play the Green Door Store, 3 April 2014