Release Date: Sep 18, 2015
Record label: Metric
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, New Wave/Post-Punk Revival
Metric wanted to give us their first collection of songs over a decade ago, but 2001's Grow Up And Blow Away, with its eccentric jams and cool compositions, wasn't released until six years later. The delay of the band's unofficial and somewhat experimental debut allowed time for the quartet to work out their signature style — a sexy and sophisticated synth-pop sound that they introduced on Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? (2004) and perfected on Fantasies (2009) and Synthetica (2012). On their sixth full-length studio album, entitled Pagans in Vegas, most of the tracks are so refined they sparkle.
Metric have always been one of the loudest and proudest indie pop bands of their generation, but lacking the enthusiasm for their long-utilized arena rock and sparkling pop sensibilities, they’ve finally settled on something less gaudy for their latest record Pagans in Vegas. It’s an album built of quieter moments, its shadowy synthesizers and simmering guitars acting as a kind of artistic reset from the neon pop they explored on their last outing. Sonically, the record is not far removed from the band’s previous efforts Fantasies and Synthetica, but instead of the big dramatic emotions and setpiece melodies bursting out of their back catalog, Pagans in Vegas is much more muted and sullen.
After releasing two albums that turned Metric into an arena-filling indie rock band, with a sound designed to reach the very back rows, the band scaled back both their ambitions and approach on their sixth record, 2015's Pagans in Vegas. Kicking off with the clipped and swaggering "Lie Lie Lie," which sounds like a distant cousin of Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus," Emily Haines and the band seem less interested in being epic this time out. The less bombastic arrangements and the attention to details of sound mean the songs don't have the same overblown feeling, which cuts two ways.
“Bam shika bam shika boom boom bom. Sha wang sha wang boom, sha wang sha wang boom!”. On paper, it may read like the nonsensical ramblings of the most seriously deranged, but that was actually one of the most exciting introductions to a song for the last decade. Monster Hospital by Metric (for that’s what it was) was a frenetic, brilliantly urgent slice of perfect guitar pop, on a par with The Rat by The Walkmen and Arcade Fire‘s Wake Up for one of the iconic songs of the mid-noughties.
Over the past decade, Broken Social Scene alumna Emily Haines has played the role of post-Internet philosopher, struggling to retain her individuality in a world growing more developed and technologically dependent by the day. The binary between authenticity and artificiality has remained a perennial interest for the Toronto-based musician, and it comes up yet again on her band Metric's latest album Pagans In Vegas with zero subtlety. In one corner waits the natural, manifested in dressed-down guitars and Haines’ lilting soprano.
"I want it all!" Emily Haines sings on "The Shade," a surging love song from this Canadian band's sixth album. Such wide-eyed directness is a nice fit for a record that completes Metric's decade-long move from taut, testy indie rock toward a synthier, dreamier sound. Haines' singing is sharp but worry-worn, whether she's navigating "cascading waves of emotion" over glowering electro-grind on "Cascades" or delivering a real-talk apology to a burnt ex on the Cure-like "For Kicks." Best of all is "Lie Lie Lie," a hard-hitting shot at fakeness and sexism where Haines quotes Dylan Thomas' famous line about raging against the dying of the light — and drives it home by practicing what she preaches.
Review Summary: True to frustrating form… Too bad, so sad.Technically speaking, the term “frustrating” doesn’t have to be a wholly negative connotation, does it? A near-perfect album could be frustrating in the sense that it isn’t quite perfect. The label could simply be one imposed by a taskmaster suggesting that improvements can still be made… or a pessimist who prefers to cite negatives over positives. No matter which way you look at it, Canadian indie-rockers Metric are a frustrating band.
When forming Metric at the end of the ’90s, Emily Haines and James Shaw initially named the band Mainstream. Early singles like “Dead Disco” and “Combat Baby” weren’t necessarily mainstream, but really could have been. Their quirky indie rock combined slippery, new wave elements, massive arena reach, and infectious pop hooks. Over five albums, the Toronto outfit have written enough jams for an engaging live set and surrounded those songs with enough inoffensive filler that at worst they could be seen as treading water while the music world inched closer to their sound.
Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? aged with such grace that it still prompts the question: Why weren't Metric pulled into the popular ring when it debuted in 2003? Its snappy guitar lines and whiplashed words were poppy enough for the radio but smirked with its own personality. With each album that followed, Metric fought harder to gain the spotlight they narrowly missed, ultimately sacrificing integrity and musical wit, a choice that simultaneously dims their hooks and audience's stimuli. Pagans in Vegas sees them descend one step further.
Long gone are the days of Metric, the sassy indie-rock quartet with downtown New York style and angular guitar riffs. After abandoning its edges for the glossier pop perfectionism of Fantasies, the group’s last effort lived up to its Synthetica title, transitioning the band into more synthpop sounds and dance-floor grooves. With Pagans In Vegas, the band has fully morphed into purveyors of slick electronic pop, music that would fit right in alongside British synth-driven acts like Depeche Mode or even The Cure.
Six albums into their 15-year career, local-band-done-good Metric could easily either stick to the formula that made them successful or tailor their tunes to fit the stadiums they now headline. To their credit, the quartet continue to experiment while still staying true to their synth-pop sound. Pagans In Vegas may not be the strongest entry in the Metric canon, but the juxtaposition of Emily Haines's robot-girl vocals and pointed lyrics with dark yet hooky melodies remains a winning combination.