Given the critical and commercial success of The English Riviera, Metronomy could have easily spent another album or two expanding on its polished, erudite pop. However, they're too mercurial a band to do the obvious thing. On Love Letters, they abandon their previous album's sleek precision for fuzzy analog charm. Metronomy recorded the album at London's Toe Rag studio, a fixture of British indie rock, and Joe Mount and company imbue these songs with the room's warmth and intimacy. Musically and emotionally, Love Letters is rawer than what came before it, trading breezy synth pop for insistent psych-rock and soul influences. The main carryover from The English Riviera is the increasing sophistication, and melancholy, in Mount's songwriting. Previously, his best songs were playful and ever so slightly emotional; on Love Letters, he flips this formula, penning songs filled with lost love, regrets, and just enough wit to sting. The album opens with three striking portraits of heartbreak: "The Upsetter" equals its distance with its urgency, capping it all with an achingly gorgeous guitar solo. "I'm Aquarius" traces the fallout of a star-crossed relationship impressionistically, with girl group-style "shoop doop"s almost overpowering Mount's reasons why it didn't work ("you're a novice/I'm a tourist"), as if memories of his ex crowd out everything else. "Monstrous" turns Metronomy's signature jaunty keyboards Baroque and paranoid, with a doomy organ that closes in when Mount sings "hold on tight to everything you love," and a counterpoint that captures the way loneliness and heartbreak circle each other. These songs set the stage perfectly for the desperate romance of "Love Letters" itself, which updates punchy, late-'60s Motown drama so well that it's easy to imagine the Four Tops singing it. Here and on "Month of Sundays"'s acid rock vistas, Metronomy's nods to the past feel more like footnotes than following too closely in anyone's footsteps. However, they sound more comfortable with their own quirks as well, giving more muscle to "Boy Racers" than their previous instrumentals, and more depth to "Reservoir," which is the closest it gets to a typical Metronomy song (if there is such a thing anymore). Confessional and insular, Love Letters is the work of a band willing to take pop success on their own terms and reveal a different -- but just as appealing -- side of their artistry in the process.
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