Album Review: Metric – Synthetica

– By Yufeng K.

Slated to release their fifth studio album on 12th June this year and to perform here in Singapore on 31st July, if there was one band everyone’s murmuring about (screaming in my case), it has to be Metric.

Truth be told, I am still hungover from the Canadian quartet’s 2009 release Fantasies and what a brilliant album that was. It represented the climax, the peak that the band had been reaching for. From the hard, unpolished Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? to the eccentricity of Live It Out and the indie charm of debut Grow Up And Blow Away (officially released in 2007), Fantasies was Metric made so much bigger and better. Every song resonated with me, the fist-pumping ‘Help, I’m Alive’ giving way to the arena rock ready ‘Satellite Mind’; instant radio hit ‘Gimme Sympathy’ sandwiched between the plaintive ‘Twilight Galaxy’ and the soaring ‘Collect Call’.

The album defined 2009 for me.

So when Metric announced a new album for 2012, I was mad excited (you can ask my friends). Yet, a nagging worry that Metric couldn’t top Fantasies kept bugging me and it seemed to be the case when I first listened to the first song to drop from Synthetica, ‘Youth Without Youth’. Sure, Joules Scott-Key’s stomping drums work their magic, Josh Winstead still has a great bassline in him and Emily Haines sounds exceptionally sexy when angsty. But something was missing; it lacked immediacy. ‘Youth Without Youth’ is anthemic no doubt, but it didn’t hit me square in the face like ‘Help, I’m Alive’ did three years ago. And sure enough I was quick to dismiss it.

Listening to the album now, I realised how wrong I was about the track. Slotting in between slow-burning opener ‘Artificial Nocturne’ and the epic ‘Speed The Collapse’, which has all the immediacy ‘Youth Without Youth’ lacks and more, I begin to appreciate its place on the new album and realise just how much the track has grown on me. In fact, the track is a microcosm of the larger album. Unlike FantasiesSynthetica does not have the same emotional poignancy or the same urgency. Like its own cover art, the album “asks you to stop for a moment and consider what you are looking at” as Haines describes in a recent statement. Not to say that Synthetica is any less fantastic though.

It starts off strongly, the sublime ‘Breathing Underwater’, which I daresay is the best track off the new album, a perfect foil for the emphatic lead singles. Emily Haines vocals here remind me of crystal clear water, shimmering as the band builds to a cathartic finish.

The title track is another hit in the making, with driving guitars, chiming synths and a catchy chorus; typical Metric. Dovetailing it perfectly, ‘Clone’ slows down the tempo and is as close to a ballad as the band can get.

Overall, Synthetica is a return to form as Metric continue to perfect and fine-tune their sound. However, still that nagging worry remains. Full credit to the talents of Haines, Shaw, Winstead and Scott-Key but have Metric run their course? Fantasies remains my favourite album from them and nothing it seems has topped it yet.

There is still hope though. There are moments on Synthetica where Metric push the envelope. ‘The Wanderlust’ sees Metric collaborate with the unlikeliest of artists, the legendary Lou Reed, to good effect. The reverb-drenched ‘Dreams So Real’ is also a departure from Metric’s typical new-wave indie rock as is the spacey, almost ethereal album closer ‘Nothing But Time’.

“Our parents, daughters and sons/Believed in the power of songs” sings Haines. Perhaps, it would be a good idea to relish the joys that Metric’s new album has to offer and believe that Haines and co. will deliver another stellar album in due time.

UpdateSynthetica is now streaming on Metric’s Soundcloud page. Listen here.

P.S. Metric have continued to record acoustic versions of their songs and from the looks of it, there could be more things to be excited about. Have a listen here and here.


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