New Music Tuesday: Metronomy • Elbow


Every Tuesday, we focus on new music releases by naming our top tracks, album highlights, lowlights and important takeaways for select albums.

MetronomyLove Letters

3-BamsTop Tracks:
“I’m Aquarius”
“Boy Racers”
“The Most Immaculate Haircut”

Album Highlights: Metronomy’s fourth album is strikingly less electronic than prior efforts, taking wonky pop toward the doo-wop, soulful rock and roll of the 70’s. The group’s prior effort, English Riviera, found success in its swirling layers and sophisticated production. This time, Metronomy founder and frontman Joseph Mount uses lyrical repetition to the point that the vocal loops become mantras, driving home the point of confessional simplicity.

For example, album single “I’m Aquarius” repeats the song’s title for about one-third of the song, but that’s not why the song works. Sparkling melodic undertones enriched the track, allowing the mantra to take hold. “The Most Immaculate Haircut” is slightly deceptive in it’s form, which makes it interesting. It dies down, feigning the song is coming to an end, only to revive stronger than before with “Oh hush now” becoming the vocal center-point. “Boy Racers,” an instrumental that inspires a cinematic detective feel is the first song that shifts the tonal attitude of apathy, suitably without lyrics. The dynamic nature of this song, along with no lyrics or mantra, helps it to stick out, in a good way.

The best songs on the record are the ones that diverge slightly from the Metronomy’s consistent approach.

Album Lowlight: This simple approach reduces instrumentation in favor of a measured pace and homogenous tone, therefore making it feel bland. Under a throwback, soulful rock aesthetic, the album’s title Love Letters drips in irony. More of a makeup letter, or a breakup letter, there isn’t much love to be found lyrically. Hell, in the first two tracks, Mount sings about relationship apathy, taking rings back and threatening to leave.

The lyrical mantras are so repetitious that they can become meaningless at times. “I keep on writing love letters”, “We can get better / We can do anything” and “Does it get better?” on the final cut “Never Wanted” does tell a basic, ongoing tale about the pains of love. In the end, Metronomy’s record feels monotonous, both lyrically and in its overall production.

Takeaway: Love Letters has a handful of memorable songs, but as a whole, it doesn’t inspire much feeling or a need to replay. Lyrics from the album’s best song “I’m Aquarius” say it best — “I can love it, or I can leave it.” A forgettable, permeating aura of apathy does Metronomy’s latest no great service.

~Mike Frash

ElbowThe Take Off and Landing of Everything

3.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“Fly Boy Blue/Lunette”
“New York Morning”

Album Highlights: After a three-year layoff, the British indie rockers are back with their sixth full-length album and their third on UK label Fiction Records. The last five years, after all, have been as rewarding as they come for the Manchester band. Its last two albums were both nominated for the Mercury Prize, with 2008’s Seldom Seen Kid edging out Radiohead’s In Rainbows as well as Adele’s 19 to take home the prestigious honor. And even though 2011 follow-up Build a Rocket Boys! would fall short to PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake, such critical acclaim in such a short span set quite the precedent for the quintet.

Still, as tough as those albums are to follow, The Take Off and Landing of Everything isn’t a total dud by any means. Lead singer/guitarist Guy Garvey’s soothing voice sounds as good as it ever has, while the rest of the band — Craig Potter (keyboards, piano), Mark Potter (guitar, vocals), Pete Turner (bass, vocals) and Richard Jupp (drums, percussion) — shows an urge to experiment more than in the past.

With almost eight songs over the five-minute mark, The Take Off and Landing of Everything has plenty of meat to it. “This Blue World” opens the 10-track LP with seven minutes of balladry, but it’s the ensuing “Charge” where things start to click for Elbow, as Garvey immediately tells us how he really feels when he has more than just a few drinks in him: “I am electric with a bottle in me / Got a bottle in me / And glory be, these fuckers are ignoring me / I’m from another century.” Though it’s clear that Garvey has a thing for the sauce — he proclaims “What can be said of the whiskey and wine / Random abandon or ballast for joy” on the subsequent “Fly Boy Blue/Lunette” — he also can be heard professing his love for the Big Apple on new single “New York Morning.” The other tracks, meanwhile, follow suit in continuing at a rather deliberate pace, highlighted by Garvey sharing memories during “My Sad Captains” and later waxing poetic on “Colour Fields” when he offers a young, attractive woman some words to live by.

Album Lowlight: Living up to its past two records wasn’t going to be easy for Elbow to accomplish, and there’s no question that The Take Off and Landing of Everything doesn’t deserve the same praise as either. That’s not to say it isn’t worth listening to more than once or twice, but it also doesn’t carry the same sort of repeatability that some of Elbow’s previous albums maintain. Part of that has to do with the overall lack of tempo we get from start to finish — the nature of Garvey’s lyrics often overwhelms the musicianship. Yet, part of it also has to do with the fact that some songs just don’t hold up as well as others. “Real Life (Angel)” and the album’s title track, for instance, meander along for quite a while without ever reaching a climax, and the spaced-out finale “The Blanket of Night” could easily lull you to sleep after the first two minutes.

Takeaway: There may not be a lot of standout songs here to speak of, but this is still solid work from a band that is trying to push boundaries and test itself. Sure, Elbow could merely have taken the easy way out by filling up an album with conventional, three-minute pop hits, but this band — the same one that was named “Best British Group” at the 2009 Brit Awards — is a lot better than that. There is plenty of thought and reflection that can be heard in Garvey’s lyrics, and Elbow has certainly spread its wings between working with the Hallé orchestra and exploring an interest in minimalistic electronica.

~Josh Herwitt

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