Outside, at the end of a sizzling April day, the horizon has vanished – the sea is exactly the same deep ozone blue as the sky. Inside this sweltering, sold-out beachfront venue, Metronomy are playing their lustrous new album, one inspired by the British seaside.
As homecoming shows go, this one is touched with a glorious serendipity. You have to practically crunch shingle to get here. Metronomy's main-man, Joseph Mount, used to live in Brighton, and his keyboard player, saxophonist and cousin Oscar Cash, still does. Some of the crowd have clearly been sipping cider on the beach all afternoon.
"This is the closest this song has ever been played to the sea," notes Mount cheerfully, introducing "The Bay", a song from The English Riviera, Metronomy's third and definitive album. Gilded with falsettos, it's a winning baroque disco track that couples a sense of yearning with a defiant sense of place. "This isn't Paris," Mount sings chippily, "This isn't London, and it's not Berlin, and it's not Hong Kong." Perhaps in tribute to the flashing lights that draw you to the end of the pier, his band – Cash, drummer Anna Prior, and bassist Gbenga Adelekan, who has a parallel career as a DJ – all wear oversized white badges that light up in synch with the beat. There are shout-outs to various Brighton neighborhoods, lived in by students and bohemians.
Mount grew up along the coast in Totnes, far from any cogent musical scene, fashioning his own tastes from what was available on the radio, and yearning for a terrific time that he always felt was just out of reach. He left, of course – for Brighton, and a spell as a jobbing drummer while he got his bedroom recording project off the ground. Metronomy's name reflects Mount's enduring tendency towards the tick, tick, tick of a perpetual motion machine. Although Mount's pop instincts are strong, and getting more irresistible by the album, this is very much a club show, with the band playing a tireless mix of popping beats and bright synths, virtually unlit except for those flashing white badges. It may not be the reference point Mount would choose, but Hot Butter's "Popcorn" repeatedly springs to mind.
Metronomy's breakout second album, Nights Out (2008), was heavily in thrall to the sounds of the early 80s and firmly wedded to the idea of a good time; it moved Mount to London, earned him critical acclaim, a brace of remix credits and – unexpectedly – the admiration of Girl Aloud Nicola Roberts, who sought him out as a writing partner for her debut solo album.
Its follow-up is miles better. An early candidate for album of the summer, The English Riviera reimagines Mount's native Devon coast as a nippier version of California, a place of saturated colours and ease, undercut with a very English sense of the bittersweet. Like Steely Dan played on Fisher-Price instruments, it also recalls, in part, the sour club-pop of LCD Soundsystem, early Depeche Mode and the warm soft-rock of cult French heroes Phoenix. The album's cover image is by obscure British graphic artist John Gorham, featuring a stylised palm against a background of azure and yellow stripes. It was previously used to advertise Torquay, Paignton and Brixham. Perhaps Metronomy are waiting for the budget to incorporate the album's strong visual sense and seductive mystique into their set-dressing. As it is, their performance remains a little ragged around the edges, quirky and cute with hand gestures and banter, but not quite the equal of their album's considerable allure. It's a crying shame, too, that because Mount's duetting partner, Roxanne Clifford of the band Veronica Falls, is absent, Metronomy don't play one of The English Riviera's soon-to-be-ubiquitous tracks, "Everything Goes My Way" – a song about falling in love again, against the odds.
They do, however, do justice to their other putative summer hit. Tense and fidgety, "The Look" captures the claustrophobia of a small town, where everyone moves in the same ever-decreasing circles. Among a multitude of nagging keyboard hooks its theme proves especially difficult to dislodge. Finally, a heroic Moog keyboard solo that wafts in from a kinder, warmer, distant place, ready to whisk Mount's troubled protagonists away.