Metronomy has most recently been known for producing some of the mildest synthpop out there. Their 2011 album The English Riviera placed subdued synthesizer melodies over traditional rock instrumentation, with frontman Joseph Mount providing vocals on almost every track. Its 2014 follow-up Love Letters added a retro tint to this formula, as it was recorded entirely with analog synthesizers and featured a few Motown-inspired songs. Both albums had a number of great pop singles, and injected some much-needed subtlety into electronic music.
Much of this subtlety is gone however on Metronomy’s new album Summer 08. It’s difficult to figure out exactly why Metronomy named their new album Summer 08, which seems like it romanticizes the good ol’ days of…eight years ago? In case you’re trying to recall a particular “sound of summer” from that year, know that Metronomy was not trying to capture the overall electronic music style of a not-very-foregone time (although In Ghost Colours by Cut Copy and Made in the Dark by Hot Chip both came out that year). Instead, the title is a callback to their own 2008 album Nights Out, which featured a livelier brand of synthpop that Metronomy had been moving away from.
This is again the case for Summer 08, which is an energetic album to say the least. Many tracks are not just filled with heavier dance beats and louder synthesizer lines, but also have an electro-funk aesthetic you’d expect more from a group like Chromeo. The first single “Old Skool” for instance has a groovy bassline over synthesizer harmony and drum machine snares, and is closed out by incredible turntablism courtesy of the Beastie Boys’ Mix Master Mike.
What makes Summer 08’s funkiness all the more impressive is that the album is essentially a Joseph Mount solo project. His three bandmates from The English Riviera and Love Letters are absent, and even the album’s spiritual predecessor Night Out had occasional help. The only guests on Summer 08 are the aforementioned Mix Master Mike cameo and guest vocals by Swedish pop start Robyn on track “Hang Me Out To Dry.” Otherwise, the album is just Mount and his synthesizers. He seems to more or less treat them as band members though, as he dedicates the song “16 Beat” to the titular drum machine rhythm that punctuates the track.
Since Summer 08 is Mount cutting loose and doing his own thing, it’s at its best when it ventures into no-holds barred dance music. “Old Skool” and “16 Beat” are both examples, as is album opener “Back Together.” This track’s jarring melody is only overshadowed by a moment where Mount schedules a date with a falsetto-voiced version of himself, with the result being funny yet grating. Elsewhere, the slap-bass heavy “My House” and the standout Empire of the Sun-reminiscent track “Night Owl” would likewise make welcome additions to any DJ’s playlist.
Conversely, Summer 08 falters a little on its quieter moments. The appropriately-named “Mick Slow” throws a damper on the album’s tempo right around its midsection, and the penultimate “Love’s Not an Obstacle” has all of the trappings of the album’s better songs but none of the energy. The mostly instrumental closing track “Summer Jam” also feels out of place on the album, almost as much as “Boy Racers” on Love Letters. Metronomy may have mastered subtlety before, but Summer 08 is best when remaining blissfully unaware of this fact.
Had Mount rallied his bandmates to make a musically-similar sequel to The English Riviera or Love Letters, the result would likely have been a decent and satisfying easy listen. Instead, it seems as if he went for a more ambitious project to get in touch with past inspirations, which is ultimately more rewarding. Summer 08 can get to be a little overwhelming when taken all at once, mostly because of the similarity of several songs, yet most tracks are strong enough to stand on their own. Metronomy’s previous albums may have had their respective qualities, but the word that best describes Summer 08 is “fun.”