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Record Review: Metronomy’s The English Riviera

By / Posted on 11 April 2011

The English RivieraBad news first: The English Riviera is Metronomy’s shortest album in terms of both play length and number of songs. I only mention this because you will notice when the album is over and are left wanting more.

There’s been the definite impression over the course of Metronomy’s discography that Joseph Mount is somewhat of a nerd. Debut album Pip Paine (Pay the £5000 You Owe) sounded like “My First Drum Machine & Sampler,” with warbles and clicks that usually only occur when a reclusive kid is left to play with Abelton Live by himself for entirely too long. Follow-up Nights Out took those awkward warbles and turned them into dancefloor-ready songs about being dumped or ignored by scene girls, with the shrill synth stabs suggesting the musician was either wasted or still uncomfortable in front of a crowd, a pubescent voice squeaking whenever it tries to talk to a pretty girl. The English Riviera is the next logical step, with even tighter instrumentation and a significantly increased confidence. Mount has returned to his titular roots of Devon, UK, and like so many film protagonists who return home for a high school reunion, has found greater personal drama waiting for him there than out on worldly adventures.

Opener “We Broke Free” prepares the listener with a mastery of self-restraint. Synth swells, vocal harmonies and guitar breaks each announce that Joseph could rock this sucker out any time he damn well chooses, but that wouldn’t be prudent, so let’s keep it in our pants, darling, just for the night. “Everything Goes My Way,” with surprising lead vocals by drummer Anna Prior, could easily be confused for the best Rilo Kiley song since The Execution of All Things, “The Bay” is what Daft Punk’s Discovery might sound like if it suddenly exressed an interest in girls, and “Corinne” is a tender number about unrequited love between a man and his gun. Despite it’s geographic focus, The English Riviera is all over the map, complete with a 60′s R&B ditty smack dab in the middle as a sort of intermission.

The truly astounding thing about The English Riviera, though, is that theses songs which vary in influence and presentation never feel disconnected from one another. The flow and pacing are perfect, as slow jams pick up from hip-shakers without ever dropping a beat. No single song outshines any other. Sure, you may have a favorite on first listen, but every tune eventually tears away its layers to reveal the beating heart within, from the sultry morning-after vibe of “She Wants” to the free-association afrobeat of “Love Underlined.” Even the thirty-second intro doesn’t feel like a throwaway, with crashing waves, cawing gulls and strings that almost whine overprivileged guilt, setting the mood for seaside songs about pretty people’s petulant problems.

It is not yet clear whether having a band in the studio (rather than a solo affair picked up by bandmates for tour) or just experience over time is the major factor in allowing Joseph to craft such a significantly more likable album, but one thing is clear: that in an era of podcasts and mp3 playlists, Metronomy has truly produced an album. There is an atmosphere to The English Riviera that would be somewhat lost if the songs were taken individually. These are songs you will want to sing as you cruise along the boardwalk, it’s just a shame that no one else will know the words. Magical that Mounts has written a whole collection about that sort of beautiful frustration that will also produce the same effect in our own lives.

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Derrick Sanskrit has produced critically-acclaimed work as an artist and writer for Nerve, Babble, Pitchfork, The Onion and the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, among others. He founded The Pop Aesthetic during the coldest months of his life in 2010.