The Metronomes were a post punk minimal wave group operating out of Melbourne in the late 70′ and early 80′, releasing two singles and two albums, Multiple Choice in 1980 and Regular Guys in 1985 on Cleopatra records, whilst self releasing their third album Today in 2004 after a lengthy hiatus. Apparently they’ve recently regrouped again and have a forthcoming album of new material due next year.
They were/ are made up of Andrew Picouleau, perhaps best known for his work in Sacred Cowboys and for providing bass guitar to Dave Graney’ 1993 Night of the Wolverine album, synth player and rock journalist Al Webb (Streetlife) and synth player Ash Wednesday (Models/ Jab/ Einsturzende Neubauten), who is almost a genre into himself with recent reissues of his work on Omni (including some Metronomes material) and Vinyl on Demand.
They began with the idea of using the metronome as the percussive rhythm in their music, developing strict rules about composition, and the power to veto songs within the band.
Their first single “Saturday Night” features this original idea of the metronomic rhythm section using a real metronome, and features somewhat surprisingly guitar in the main, though it’s the b-side “Sunday Morning,” whilst still retaining the jangly post punk guitar, is their first demonstration of their future preoccupation with synths. It feels woozy, somewhat foggy, and could’ve easily come off Ariel Pink‘ last album. By the time of their second single “A Closed Circuit” they were onto rudimentary drum machines, again with jangly guitars and synths, but more prominent bass guitar. The flip, “A Circuit Like Me” features robotic female vocals, the woman machine, a precursor to what would become the Stereolab sound.
Initially “Sex” sounds not unlike Ween’ “Candy” (Chocolate and Cheese), with its disturbingly slow hyper artificial drum machine and heavy funk baseline, yet this is more complex, not just because of the synthetic elements swirling around periodically creating a peculiar kind of emotional poignancy, but because of their desire to continually develop the piece via delays and changes in texture. The highlight though is “Sex II,” a duet of a male and female becoming increasingly orgasmic as they list the contents of a shopping trolley above a funked-up drum machine and squelchy synth. It’s absurd and ridiculous, playful and a lot of fun. In fact there’ a real irreverent Aussie humour spread liberally throughout this whole collection. A prime example is The “Ballad of the Metronome,” a tortured tale of the life of a time keeping device, which begins â€œDaddy was a metronome/I was his only son/ up until the age of 12 we lived in unison,â€ before going on to detail all the challenges inherent in living up to his father’ rigid expectations.
This is a retrospective, a greatest hits of their early material, and though none of these sounds feel particularly new in 2014, there’ something both naive and quirky about not only their sound, but also their experimentation and unique approach to the new technology. There’ an economy in their sound, nothing is wasted. What’s so compelling though is their combination of austere minimalism and irreverent the humour – the self aware quirkiness expressed through their lyrics or idiosyncratic compositional decisions. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of their music though is that in 2014 there are so many current day reference points, from Air to Stereolab, from Ariel Pink to Ween. Yet truth be told, despite some vague similarities, The Metronomes very much exist in their own peculiar world.
Nice Noise is a new Melbourne label, a sub imprint of Dual Planet, and a collaboration between Dual Planet, It Records and Nun, taking their name from Phillip Brophy‘s legendary band → ↑ →, focussing on 1980’s Australian post punk and minimal synth. This is their first release.