Metronomy Love Letters (Because)
Metronomy’s Mercury nomination for their third album, The English Riviera (2011), gave a giddily high-profile to what had begun as Devonian Joseph Mount’s bedroom-produced, solo project. Their breakthrough’s thin-voiced, faintly melancholy English dance-pop seemed to bracket them with Hot Chip, following a progressively more anaemic lineage that began with early New Order. Mount is an easy-going soul, but interviews suggest he sometimes smarts at being underestimated, fuelling an ambition to progress and prove his doubters wrong. Love Letters, recorded to tape in east London’s analogue, White Stripes-favoured studio Toe Rag, certainly rings the changes impressively. It’s Metronomy’s best work to date.
Mount was originally a drummer, and he keeps smooth grooves at the base of music which nods equally to 1970s disco, Abba, and the luxuriant “yacht rock” of the decade’s AOR bands. Mount’s version of all this still has a cut-price, home-made quality.
The harpsichord intro of “Monstrous” reveals Mount’s recent interest in the Zombies’ Sixties chamber-pop. He fades it out as if he’s wandered into the next room, in favour of bleeping dance beats and Barry White-deep bass synths. After three fairly sparse pieces, Love Letters’ title track then blows the doors open with a burst of pop sunshine begun by a trumpet refrain, and cresting on Anna Prior’s backing vocals.
English colloquialism and realism abound, as on “Month of Sundays”, and “Call Me”, the utopian dreams of which suffer a sardonic puncture: “We can try anything/ We can say we’ll try anything…” The new wave edge and wave-lapped, seaside ambience of “The Most Immaculate Haircut” also agreeably roughen up this proggy, layered music. The sonic thinness which seems inherent to Mount remains his limiting weakness, and modest strength. NH
Download: Monstrous, Love Letters, Call Me, The Most Immaculate Haircut
Dan Croll Sweet Disarray (Deram)
Dan Croll, a graduate of Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts, has attracted quite a bit of hype leading up to this debut. Unpredictable, packed three-minute arrangements show why. Croll’s conversational croon and digital slivers of African high-life guitar initially give a sense of flyaway airiness. It’s more like hyperactive claustrophobia by the end. Itchily rhythmic verses are suddenly derailed by fluttering dub, or supported by creamy vocoder harmonies. “Sweet Disarray” starts with pretty folk guitar, only for climactic strings and brass to wobble into nightmarish chaos. Only the amusing conservatism of “Home” goes beyond the innocuous, to insist people take their shoes off on Croll’s carpet. His ambitious arrangements need more disarray, and less sweetness.NH
Download: Sweet Disarray, Home, Can You Hear Me
Joan As Police Woman The Classic (Play It Again Sam)
Joan Wasser was always a soul singer, trying to lay out and overcome her troubles in her music. Depression and death, from her boyfriend Jeff Buckley’s to her mother’s, have been previous muses. Her fourth album as Joan As Police Woman is meant to soundtrack a new sense of joyful tranquillity. The music’s a 21st-century Brooklyn take on Al Green’s Hi Records sound, with Wasser, a purely powerful singer, surfing waves of horns and organ on the thrilling, jerkily syncopated “Holy City”, and hollering down mental barriers on “Witness”. “Get Direct” is a heavy simmer of a sex song, leaving her on the sultry cusp of release. Too much is still being worked through, though, for this to be the exhilarating, post-depression party its best music suggests. NH
Download: Holy City, The Classic, Get Direct, Shame
Micah P. Hinson Micah P. Hinson and the Nothing (Talitres)
Micah P. Hinson, a Texas-based singer-songwriter who’s made fine music for a decade, has had more than his share of incident, strange luck and rotten health. A car crash in 2011 left him temporarily without the use of his arms, an unpromising beginning to this album, eventually recorded in Spain with local musicians. The 33-year-old has an old man’s weathered, cracked vibrato, reduced to a hushed growl during the slow-motion, stoic piano statement of “I Ain’t Movin”. Sad cries of Theremin, Fifties guitar twangs, strings and country gallops round out the arrangements. “Sons of the USSR” shows Hinson’s narrative strength” The haunted, hushed love of “A Million Light Years”’ is perhaps truer to the private man beneath the hard-boiled pose. NH
Download: I Ain’t Movin’, Sons of the USSR, The Quill, A Million Light Years
Christine Tobin A Thousand Kisses Deep (Trail Belle)
It seems unthinkable now, but Leonard Cohen was considered a spent force by the mid-1980s, when an album of his songs by a female singer, Jennifer Warnes, began his renaissance. In his 80th year, Cohen is among the first faces you’d carve on a rock Mount Rushmore, and female singers continue to find new depths in his work. Irishwoman Christine Tobin leads a nimble, mostly acoustic jazz quartet with a playfulness that doesn’t misplace Cohen’s knowing sadness. Softly pulsing stand-up bass and sensual squeezes of accordion shadow the dark political humour of “Everybody Knows”’, while “Anthem” is taken as a slow-burning torch song. “Take This Waltz”, its layers of European bohemian regret so kindly dissected the scalpel hardly hurts, catches Cohen’s art at its most humane.NH
Download: Tower of Song, Suzanne, Take This Waltz, A Thousand Kisses Deep
Dean Wareham Dean Wareham (Sonic Cathedral)
It’s a quarter-century since Dean Wareham made his name with Boston’s Galaxie 500, whose Velvet Underground-indebted dream-pop was stripped and sharpened in subsequent bands Luna, and Dean and Britta. With a Frances Ha cameo confirming his East Coast cool, Wareham has gotten around to his solo debut. Produced by My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, Wareham’s languid, imperturbable voice and steady-paced music have a familiarly narcotic effect. These songs are remarkable for directly addressing the aftermath of rock’s cultural high water-mark – “the twilight of the psychedelic years,” as he sings on “The Dancer Disappears”. Huddled, hippie solipsism abounds. “I Can Only Give You My All”, with its whipping guitars, is more muscularly resistant.NH
Download: The Dancer Disappears; Beat the Devil; I Can Only Give You My All