Metronomy - Summer '08

by Oliver Rose

On their largely instrumental debut, Pip Paine (Pay The £5000 You Owe), Metronomy was little more than a pseudonym. Here, on fifth studio record Summer ’08, Joseph Mount is, once again, a one-man band. Fortunately, however, the trials of fatherhood and legacy appear to have worn relatively well on him and, unlike the dreary Devonshire experiments of that first album, this new long-player squelches, shimmers and shines. Arguably, that shine isn’t as bright as it perhaps could be, but rum and cokes at the ready anyway – this is still one grooveh ting.

After the scatty, sophomore misery of Nights Out (2008), the downcast chill-wave of The English Riviera (2011) and then finally, the lo-fi psychedelia of Love Letters (2014), Summer 08 seems to be the most direct Metronomy album yet – the most approachable, perhaps. The band are not easily categorised; theirs is an extremely wonky take on the pop song, and their music’s affectations can manifest themselves as structural or aesthetic deviations – sometimes both. Most importantly, a Metronomy song is recognisable for its utterly defensive lack of appeal. These are songs that are completely impossible to play on the radio; be it because of a shrieking mellotron solo or a big, fuck-off horn section, there’s normally something ostentatious about the songs, but in an introverted, bedroom-produced kind of fashion. It’s their hallmark, and the weirdo fan-base (myself included) loves it. A quality of brave otherliness, if you will. It’s not gone here, but it’s a temperament that’s matured some – suddenly, Joseph Mount’s dulcet tones don’t sound quite so out of place on the airwaves. (Not that you’ll mind of course – texturally, the record’s still nuts, it’s just got a wider reach now since its melodies have chillaxed a little…)

From the off, the electronics are top of the range (by which I mean they sound old, not new). The analogue sound, now frequently sought after in electronic music, sounds authentic – the synths here squelch, loud and fat. The album’s robust production also makes use of various late-seventies rock rhythm clichés, which underpin the tracks: opener Back Together bounds along atop a Chic-like bass guitar, whereas Old Skool is driven by a throbbing bass synthesiser that sounds as if David Byrne programmed it (the actual Mix Master Mike of Beastie Boys fame does drop some mean scratches at the climax). (The most excellent keyboard on this whole thing is the lead synth on Summer Jam – about halfway through, you’re wandering along The English Riviera all over again.) The effect of this period homage (apparent even in the album artwork) is not pandering however; Mount doesn’t come across as a cop-out who’s ‘copied’ the past. As the album artwork’s modern, future-style font (on the reverse) also makes clear, this is a reinvention of old tropes, not a retread. An old dog, performing brand new tricks. Or maybe it’s a new dog and the tricks are old. Maybe it’s neither. Let’s avoid the linear anyhow – this is Metronomy for goodness’ sake…

The album’s strongest moments are those that are zany enough to seem left over from albums past. Night Owl’s glistening arpeggios and falsetto double-tracking borrow from the soulful, jazzy quality of Love Letters; the rubbery bass-line of Miami Logic however, would sound perfectly at home on Nights Out. To this end, I will say this: in the grand scheme of the band’s oeuvre, there is something really quite safe about Summer ’08. The aggression of album two’s scratching guitars is gone; even where album four experimented with ugly chords and aggressively imperfect production techniques, Summer ’08 presents the otherwise inimitable Mount through a crystalline auditory context that is all too common compared with his odd content. The addition of Robyn to Hang Me out to Dry is perhaps best exemplary of this idea: Mount acknowledged in a recent interview that Robyn’s voice is one well known to synth-pop; hers is a voice that works in electronic music. Well, to that I’d suggest that Metronomy’s divisive intention to not work was what empowered it before. Their technical adeptness saves them here, but the lack of risk-taking is, admittedly, a fraction disappointing.

There’s only one misstep here – Mick Slow. It’s boring. Too slow, too long. Prospective owners of the vinyl: adjust the turntable to 45 here – you’re in for more of a treat than those stuck with the CD version…

All in all then, this is a funky record, and one you should definitely try. The musicianship is ace, even if the song-writing does appear to tread self-consciously on eggshells where before it lolloped selfishly into a china shop, its intention: to destroy. Skip the sixth track, and voilà – you’ve got Metronomy’s fourth strongest album. Sounds harsh when you’re talking about a band with only five albums; it’s not when they’re as good as Joe Mount has proven he can be.