The first thing that strikes you about this superlative album from 21st century Canadian rockers, Metric, is the otherworldly aura that permeates every one of its almost pop songs. (They were founded in 1998 in Toronto but their first album, Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? came in 2003 making them very much musical flag bearers of the new century.)
Singer Emily Haines is channelling some deep far off part of herself every time she passionately dives headfirst into a song. Whether it’s the dreamy-esque swirls of, appropriately enough, “Dreams So Real” or the foot-stomping, bouncing along in a loose-springed convertible glam rock vibe of “Youth Without Youth”, she sounds absolutely in the moment and yet ethereally removed all at the same time. Her voice suggests a potent mix of Garbage’s Shirley Manson, and Ladytron’s Helen Marnie and Mira Aroyo, but wholly unique all at once, capable of capturing and releasing all the emotional punch, raw or silken, that you might want.
It lends the album a lush dissonance that sweeps you into a landscape that is most definitely still sculpted by the searing sound of screaming guitars and the power of pounding primal beats, but very much influenced by the melodic retro sounds of now. The overall sound, which is rich and warm, but pounding and defiant, is a schizophrenic melange that works beautifully, and reflects a band that isn’t afraid to mix things up if it results in more vibrant, heartfelt art.
They’re also a band that isn’t afraid to write literate lyrics that speak to the human condition. Rather than making them sound like overly-introspective naval-gazers, they instead speak of a band that isn’t afraid to wear its heart on its sleeve. They realise too I think that no matter how rich the music is, if it’s paired with insipid or superficial lyrics, then any or all of the melodic richness could be lost.
An example of their willingness to write lyrics that actually say something meaningful is again “Dreams So Real”:
All the unknown, dying or dead
Keep showing up in my dreams
They stand at the end of my bed
Have I ever really helped anyone but myself,
To believe in the power of songs?
To believe in the power of girls?
Though the point were making is gone
Played stripped down to my bone
I’ll shut up and carry on
The scream becomes a yawn
Matched with the ethereal beauty of this haunting track, you are left with the sense of someone grappling with the worth of what they’re doing. The resolution is to keep going, a very adult reaction, but it’s surrounded by an aching sense of pointlessness. But you’re not left feeling dragged down but rather feel like you have shared an intimate moment with someone going through a long dark night of the soul.
And it’s that kind of intelligence, that willingness to not simply accompany their killer guitar riffs, and pounding synth rhythms with not just any old words strung together that marks Metric as a band worth listening to over and over.
Some critics have accused the band of selling out their indie roots but frankly all I see are very creative, clever musicians making music that pulses with heart and soul, both lyrically and melodically.
In a world of vapid music-by-numbers copycats, they are everything you could want in a band, and in Synthetica they have made a vibrant musical statement that’s a significant cut above many of those produced by their peers.