Release Date: Jun 12, 2012
Record label: Mom & Pop Music
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
On the fifth album from this Canadian-American band, muscular rhythms tether spun-sugar synthesizers to Earth, while Emily Haines' vocals toe the line between vulnerability and world-weariness. The effect is of a lucid dream world – and then Lou Reed pops up on "Wanderlust," his craggy voice serving as a fine foil to all the New Wave shimmer. Listen to 'Synthetica': Related• Video: Metric Play Acoustic 'Youth Without Youth' at Rolling Stone .
After the commercial breakthrough of their 2009 album Fantasies, it would seem kind of unfair to ask Metric to do anything differently on their next outing. That album perfectly took their usual tuneful blend of hooky new wave and spooky synth pop and blew it up to stadium-huge levels while adding more emotional content than ever before. It was a trick that seemed so improbable in the first place that it would be crazy for the group not to try re-creating it on Synthetica.
METRIC play Sugar Beach Monday (June 11), and the Opera House Tuesday (June 12). Rating: NNNN It was a little worrying when news broke that Lou Reed would make a cameo on the new Metric album. We love the guy, but his recent track record when it comes to collaborations is poor, and we're not just referring to that bewildering Loutallica mess. Thankfully, his duet with Emily Haines is pretty good, restoring our faith in the punk pioneer.
Metric became one of Canada’s finest indie exports by playing with ripping guitars, grainy synths and Emily Haines’ beautiful, could-be-cute/might-kill-you-in-your-sleep lyrics. It’s business as usual on their fifth full album. “Lost Kitten” is a sweet, insane romp with Haines cooing, “Tell me one thing you’d never do / I was looking for a hooker when I found you,” before launching into a hand-clapping chorus stabbed with chants, xylophones and cheerleader drums.
Expectations of band fatigue, be gone. It appeared, for some time, that Metric had peaked with their second album, 2005’s ‘Live It Out,’ but some kind of late-stage evolution seems to have occurred on ‘Synthetica’. The essential appeal of the Canadian quartet remains intact: Emily Haines sings sultry, brooding vocals over vaguely gothic synthpop.
No one could accuse the dark moods of Metric's music of hanging like storm clouds over the band's latest set of songs. Synthetica is eerie and disconcerting, but grounded in a realism that the band refers to as its first attempt at "facing what you know is true." The Canadian foursome has come down from the highs of 2009's successful Fantasies—which wasn't exactly a spritely dance through the heavens—and landed on solid ground. Ten years together as Metric has by no means taken away the underground cool of the band's aura.
Emily Haines announced the arrival of Metric's fifth studio album Synthetica with a letter to fans that deliberately spelled out the record's lyrical themes. "Synthetica is about staying home and wanting to crawl out of your skin from the lack of external stimulation," she wrote. "It's about what is real versus what is artificial." This binary is common in contemporary art, to the point that it can seem a little trite, but Haines is too clever to settle into a simplistic "technology is bad" argument.
For obvious reasons, the preferred aesthetic of Toronto/New York/Los Angeles-based band Metric--an angular brand of Arts and Crafts indie rock that always seems stadium ready--and the constructed musical persona of lead singer/songwriter Emily Haines are practically one in the same. As a lead singer, Haines has always embodied the guise of an overconfident (read: insecure) femme fatale: insouciant, cold, occasionally blunt, edges sharpened to a point, but undeniably beautiful. She’s played this role on film (in Julian Plenti’s “Games for Days” video) and inspired characters in print (Bryan Lee O’Malley admitted the inspiration for rocker Envy Adams in his Scott Pilgrim series was Haines), and when Metric is firing on all cylinders-- like they did on their unusually strong 2009 release Fantasies-- it’s Haines who’s leaving the bite marks.
Listening to Synthetica, you have to keep reminding yourself that this is Emily Haines's fifth album with Metric, because the singer repeatedly comes across like a surly teenager oscillating between stroppy despair and proud optimism. Her first line, "I'm just as fucked-up as they say", is flinty with defiance; her last, "I've got nothing but time, so the future is mine", burns with hope. The more confounding she is, the more Haines gets under your skin: she delivers the cutesy Lost Kitten through a sardonic scowl, while Dreams So Real manages to express both the resignation of age and the petulance of adolescence: "I'll shut up and carry on," she chants, "the scream becomes a yawn.
I feel like I need to justify even listening to this record, let alone spending enough time with it to venture a review. That’s interesting I think. It says something about me at the very least, but also, I suspect, about this website and the kind of listener it caters to, their (your!) politics and prejudices. My sense is that things would be different if Synthetica were a ‘purer’ kind of pop.
Metric has been getting its house in order to greet some new visitors. Following some high-profile soundtrack contributions (The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) and respectable Billboard modern rock chart placings for singles from 2009’s Fantasies, the Toronto four-piece is on the cusp of the big time. Accordingly, the group’s latest release feels like a consolidation, one that focuses and streamlines Metric’s quixotically synth-loaded rockist swagger in anticipation of mass acceptance.
MetricSynthetica[Mom & Pop / Metric Music International; 2012]By Harrison Suits Baer; June 14, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetI didn’t quite know what to make of Synthetica after first listen, so I went downtown in search of my Wise Hipster Friend Socrates. After searching the fair-trade coffee shops and farmer’s market booths, I went to the third most likely place he would be: the local indie record store. I found him browsing a selection of imported Pekka Pohjola LPs from the early ‘80s (Though none of them could quite match up to his 1979 triumph, Visitation, he would later tell me.) He noticed me straight away and greeted me heartily.
It’s undeniable that Metric’s output has softened considerably over the past decade, settling into a formulaic groove. If their fifth album, Synthetica, is any indication, the Toronto electro-rock group has finally completed the drift toward pop homogenization, reaching a zenith—or, more appropriately, nadir—in distortion-drenched tedium. The title “synthetica” might have been chosen to reflect Metric’s penchant for draping everything they perform in an electrified drone, but it’s better used to describe the album’s artifice: gray, plastic songs that constitute the latest round of play-it-safe modern rock.
Avoiding a lapse into mid-career safeness, Metric have lots to say, and say it well. Jude Clarke 2012 Emily Haines’ Canadian outfit Metric have had the kind of slow-build, long-burn career that many bands would envy. With each of their previous four albums collecting garlands along the way – their most recent, 2009’s self-released Fantasies, netted the band a Polaris nomination, and Juno Alternative Album of the Year and Alternative Band of the Year awards – they appear to have retained their creative impulse along with their audience.
Upon hearing Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? for the first time nearly a decade ago, my first concern was an inability to discern why Metric wasn’t more popular. Specifically, why was I only hearing them on the campus radio station and not on a commercial channel? The band offered the best of both worlds between catchy pop music and politically-charged indie rock, and continued to blend accessibility with the experimental on their subsequent albums. Along the way, Metric’s mainstream appeal caught on while the band went the self-release route, and their fifth and latest album, Synthetica, has arrived to answer the question: “What happens now?”.
“I’m just as fucked up as they say,” singer Emily Haines confidently states as the brash opening line to Metric’s newest album, Synthetica, and it is that confidence in her confusion that sets the tone for the rest of this release. The fifth full-length from the Canadian indie darlings sounds pretty much like you’d expect a Metric album to sound—Haines’s distinctly delicate voice layered over snappy drum and bass lines powered by an intense amount of keys—except this time around, everything is just a bit more to the point. Produced by guitarist Jimmy Shaw, Synthetica is decisive in its point of view.