The Bubble Album Reviews No. 30

Metronomy – Love Letters

Metronomy’s fourth album, Love Letters is a record of two halves. The first half builds on the success of their 2011 album The English Riviera but the second half is a meandering mess.

Opening with the slow build of ‘The Upsetter’, the possible irony of the title is immediately apparent. A simple drum machine beat, guitar and a few synths are the only things which accompany singer and principal songwriter Joseph Mount’s rather downcast lyrics: “Now this heart beats black/So black”. Some nice lead guitar work rounds off the track before everything except the drum machine fades out. The subdued mood is continued in the second song (and first single), ‘I’m Aquarius’, a song about break-ups. I really like the atmosphere on this song; there is some great synth work and a repetitive backing vocal which works well against the vocal line.

The oppressive mood is maintained on the next song, ‘Monstrous’, which is my favourite song on the album. The song begins with a very Baroque sounding melody played on with sort of electric harpsichord synth. This melody is then in turn taken up by a softer synth and then cleverly mirrored by the vocal line with the ever present drum machine underneath. Some great synth chords augment this music for the chorus, where Joseph Mount implores: “Hold on tight to everything you love/Honestly it’s all I’m thinking of”. Next up is the title track which begins deceptively with a reserved horn section before bursting into life with the propulsive chorus. A cacophony of backing singers repeat the phrase: ‘Love letters’ under a driving rhythm section. This feels like the culmination of the previous three songs and I think it works really well when listened to in sequence. The song also seems to a bit of a trumpet feature; it closes with an excellent trumpet solo which manages to be impressive without seeming overdone.

Unfortunately after this high point, the quality of the album soon dips considerably. The sixth song ‘Boy Racers’ is pretty dire, a boring synth-led instrumental which honestly sounds a bit like a piece of GSCE composition. Most of the songs on the second half of the album meander too much and nothing is anywhere near as exciting as the title track. The recipe of synth, drum machine and similar vocals also wears a bit thin by the end, which just makes the second half even less enjoyable. I still think Metronomy have the potential to produce a really good album at some point, unfortunately Love Letters is just too uneven to approach that standard.

By Michael Vasmer

Wild Beasts – Present Tense

The fourth studio album from the Wild Beasts doesn’t fail to disappoint. It feels mature and less mischievous than its predecessors; however, they still fiddle, fitting in words that shouldn’t go and melodies that veer off when you least expect it. It takes elements from their last album Smother and develops them further, still pushing the boundary with lyrics like “Jesus was a woman”. It’s more accessible than their previous albums but still manages to be unique and separate in its own right. If you’re a Beasts virgin, Present Tense is the album to lose it to; then backtrack through Smother, Two Dancers then Limbo, Panto.

Hayden’s lyrical brilliance, in his beautiful soft falsetto, balanced with Tom’s deep pensive voice makes this a typical Beasts album, with clever arrangements and layering. They mix many influences and eras, including underlying 80s synth, with less guitar than before. The first track ‘Wanderlust’ sets the moody tone with its repetitive rhythm and lyrics. It’s more honed than the last albums, however has raw tracks such as ‘Dog’s Life,’ with experimental drumming. ‘New Life’ and ‘Palace’ show their gentler side, contrasted with ‘Daughters’ which is lyrically fierce. Personal and deep meanings run through songs such as ‘Pregnant Pause,’ with lyrics; “There is a tongue that we speak in/No-one else got the meaning”. This innocence is also seen in ‘Past Perfect’ with it’s repetitive “It’s tense for me”, differing from the playfulness of Two Dancers and Limbo, Panto.

I always struggle to find where Wild Beasts fit in; not quite indie, not quite rock or alternative. If we take this album alone it resembles a kind of mature adult pop. It’s way more serious than before, finally placing their intent as it never quite came through before-we can finally understand the balance between limbo and panto. The track ‘New Life’ sums this up with a move away from the past, a sort of coming of age, which is completely serious and meaningful; “warm and blind, groping in the briny deep”. It’s inventive, distinctive, full of ambition and oh so addictive – I’ve had it on repeat ever since it dropped through my letter box. In my opinion, it’s another unique and brave album which, to quote, is ‘A Simple Beautiful Truth’.

By Zivarna Murphy

D. Charles Speer & The Helix – Doubled Exposure

Although D. Charles Speer & The Helix hail from Brooklyn, Doubled Exposure resembles the soundtrack to an existentialist Greek wedding set in the deepest recesses of a Tennessee backwater; and I mean that in the best way possible. Its consolidation of antiquated and contemporary music is generally inventive, occasionally poignant and always entertaining.

The enigmatic fusion of jazz blues, 50s rock’n’roll and Greek Rebetiko music, glazed with modern post-rock and country-rock sensibilities, is initially overwhelming but becomes more accessible, and enjoyable, the longer you settle into the record. The opening two tracks, ‘Wallwalker’ and ‘Cretan Lords’, begin dissonantly, particularly ‘Wallwalker’, which is powered by a ruggedly reverbed guitar riff and a cheerfully perpetual blues piano loop. Once I became adjusted to the tormented melody the track became more groovy than jarring, a rollicking country-rock shindig. ‘Cretan Lords’ is the most explicit example of the Rebetiko influence, opening with a shrill bouzouki and sinister background drones before transforming into a densely atmospheric, intelligently constructed allegory where Greek legend represents individual disillusionment; Shuford croons that he’s “sleepwalk[ing] through this labyrinth of life”.

These didactic mythological metaphors (the quoted line assumedly an allusion to King Minos of Crete’s incomprehensible labyrinth) could easily pass as intellectual snobbery; the kind painfully illustrated in Alex Turner’s contrived Lovecraft and Poe references on the AM B-side ‘You’re so Dark’, but Shuford’s husky drawl supplements his brooding with a clear, elegant sincerity. Similarly to Bill Callahan or Mark Kozalek, Shuford’s deeply emotive vocals evoke mood and relate narrative better than the most philosophical, poetic lyrics.

‘Cretan Lords’ isn’t the only song which deals in weighty self-reflection. The ostensibly post-rock, 10-minute instrumental ‘Mandorla at Dawn’ suggest the same unspoken power as Godspeed You! Black Emperor yet lacks that group’s vitality and tension, and is arguably Doubled Exposure’s weakest song. It’s overlong, often transgressing into banality and the jazz keyboards are noticeably incongruous. Much, much better is the title track. The arrangement is gorgeous; a haunted guitar, a deftly implemented pedal steel, and a reticent drum beat underscore Shuford’s astonishing rumination on the vulnerability of the human conscious, and consequently humanity. Shuford is at his most intense and impassioned here, “from these eyes I bleed”. The subject matter is violently introspective, perhaps even solipsistic, and when it culminates in a cathartic guitar solo Shuford threatens to spiral luridly out of control; but again his captivating candour keeps things grounded.

These instances of profound self-reflection are welcomingly interrupted by light moments, such as the conventionally bluesy ‘Bootlegging Blues’ or the chirpy but ultimately bland ‘Red Clay Road’. ‘The Heated Hand‘s’ playfully heated guitar duel is enormous fun; and its interplay, only disrupted by a sporadic and insubstantial Shuford warble, surprisingly elaborate. ‘Tough Soup’ follows the title track and closes the album, and ensures The Helix exit with a triumphant bang. By now Shuford is self-assured, he’s “living on high”, and with such a philanthropic instrumentation to support him, who can blame him.

Shuford asks some big questions, largely of himself, but ‘Tough Soup’ infers he doesn’t forget the principal dogma of the country rocker is to enjoy themselves.

By Kieran Devlin

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