Assorted Albums Almanac//March

Liars//Mess

The trajectory of this band whose only consistent descriptor seems to be ‘angular'(or just ‘weird’) is all but impossible to discern. Jumping wildly from album to album across punk, prog and, on WIXIW (Wish You), electro-rock, Liars have never been content with merely consolidating. With Mess you could argue that’s changed. Building off its predecessor, it pushes the electro angle to pounding, glitched-out excess and returns to the relative inaccessibility of albums like 2007’s eponymous work. The relative normality of WIXIW is ditched for a swirling mass of sound – chaotic, oppressive and inconsistent. The sheer relentlessness of Mess is to be admired, but, ultimately, its name is more fitting than you’d hope.

It’s perhaps unsurprising that an album that begins with a fuzzy voice intoning ‘Eat my face off’ is pretty, well, in your face. The problem lies in Liars inability to restrain that madness. The first half of the album is a relentless assault on the senses, quickly turning from interesting and bold into repetitive and almost irritating; by the time Darkslide arrives to slow things up the album’s already become stuck in something of a mire. The slower, more atmospheric second half benefits from the change of pace, but nonetheless it just doesn’t grab as it should. Perhaps it’s because you’re already worn out by that furious opening, but Mess really feels like a drag at times.

Amidst the sprawl there are glimmers of inspiration, moments where the madness coagulates into a form more familiar; on Can’t Hear Well, the shock and awe treatment of the album’s opening is dialed back in favour of pulsing Vangelis-esque swirls, and, much like on WIXIW, Angus Andrew’s fuzzed up vocals dovetail with the gloom to create a strangely gripping atmosphere. Mess on A Mission, the pre-release teaser, similarly benefits for a more controlled, subtle approach. The sprightly, almost melodic, absolutely hypnotic beeps and bops sustain the trance-like beat before a slightly more dodgy chorus steamrolls in. It’s all patterns and loops and swirls, but only a few of them ever really grab your attention the way they should. Andrew’s vocals grate when they’re too stripped of fuzz to cover up his deficiencies, and the eerily enigmatic, almost gothic, lyricism that he formerly brought out so well is ditched for loops and cycles.

The quiet dread and strange mixture of emptiness and oppressiveness that characterised WIXIW will forever be associated with cold winter nights in Exeter to me. It oozed atmosphere as much as it knew how to flip out, but Mess can’t pull off that trick with anywhere near the same consistency. Only on the late-in-the-day would-be saviour Dress Walker does the vision they had for the album comes together. The hazy vocals, the gloom and the electro nod to WIXIW, but it pushes off somewhere new, bold and uniquely brilliant. It’s weird and chaotic, but it sounds layered rather than just messy.

There’s something strangely, kinetically gripping about Mess, but it’s just not interesting enough. This dark, mental kind of Kraftwerk is, ultimately, actually quite a change for the band. The roots may be familiar for once, but it’s clear that Mess’s entire sonic dynamic is another gamble for Liars. It’s one that hasn’t quite paid off, even if it has kept their perfect record for surprise.

B-

Mess on A Mission, Can’t Hear Well, Dress Walker

Metronomy//Love Letters

Oh, hey, what’s this? Did the album just start now? Why would you wait until a minute and a half into the fourth song to have a song that has any kind of tempo? And why would you sing so badly over your one beacon of hope? Love Letters the title track just about sums up Love Letters the album. It’s confusing, weirdly cheap and the worst kind of retro. It’s a 60s pop tribute that has become a pastiche of itself, a sly nod that’s simultaneously the punchline to a joke it didn’t hear.

And what happened your budget, guys? You’ve gone from big and lush and layered to literally like two cheap keyboards and a metronome. Where’s all the money from The Look getting used in every ad ever gone? Did you spend it on you album cover? Because it’s crap. You definitely overpaid for it. And the first three tracks? A write-off. I had rants written about them, but they don’t even merit that.

It’s all a bit crap, basically. If they’d capitalised at all on the potential hinted at when the title track kicked off, then I might not have been so harsh. But even then Metronomy manage to trip themselves up.Month of Sundays switches the vibe from crap 60s pop to 70s psych-rock, but by that stage I’d already abandoned hope for Love Letters. The fact that that’s only halfway through the album is a sad state of affairs.

In some ways Love Letters is closer to their early work, like 2008’s Nights Out, but, much like them, its surprisingly simplistic melodies grow repetitive fast, and any charm they might have had is soon gone too. They’ve shifted from an up-tempo, invigorating electro-pop act to one content to elicit a foot-tap or a head nod at best. The dark, bitter tone of The English Riviera and the acerbic lyricism has turned into something vaguely farcical – reminiscent of The Unicorns but more self-important and less fun – and, with that, the slightly sinister edge to Joseph Mounts vocals has gone too. Instead, its imperfections are amplified as your search for something to catch the ear in a lifeless soundscape.

At a push I’d say The Most Immaculate Haircut is worthy of making their last album – the mid-song diving sounds help – but even then it’s not exactly great. It’s inoffensive and lacking some of the rough edges and novelty feel of the rest of the album, but it’s by no means memorable.

The fact I had just been listening to The English Riviera, and was in a real Metronomy mood when I realised their new album had been released, only served to exacerbate my disappointment when I listened to Love Letters. Love Letters is an album about break-ups and miscommunications; and that’s exactly what’s happened here. There are sparks of a good band still hidden away in the dank corners of Love Letters, but they’re few and far between. In Joseph Mount’s attempts to recreate that inimitably plastic, glitzy, jaunty vibe of 60s pop he’s only ended up taking his band back in time; back to immaturity, novelty, rough edges and unfulfilled potential.

C-

I guess The Most Immaculate Haircut is okay, and Love Letters and I’m Aquarius are good for a little while

These New Puritans//Field of Reeds

Dark jazz and powerful drumming collide in this grand, strange, occasionally compelling release. Alternating between a barely in tune crone and more dramatic wailing, Field of Reeds is divided at its core – at times sprightly indie with a dark twist, at others a messy mix of discordant piano, trumpet stabs and oddly emphatic drumming. It’s hard to say if it’s misplaced or redemptive, but that’s kind of how I feel about this album in general. The atmospherics that swirl around Jack Barnett are interesting enough – it’s rare you hear something described as ‘neo-classical art rock’ – but the vocals are too strange and, really, too crap to hold it all together. I get that it’s meant to be weird and different and stuff, but there’s no core to the sound of Field of Reeds and it all comes off as a well-put together spew of sounds.

C-

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