. issue I : iv .

. artist : metric .
. album : synthetica .
. year : 2012 .
. label : mom + pop music .
. grade : b .

Emily Haines–the first female President of the United Boroughs of Amsterdam Angeles Chicaustinortland Iowa State–and her band Metric (Joules Scott Key, Jimmy Shaw, and Joshua Winstead) have flitted successfully about the musical scene financia-artstically for over a decade and had union guys for confetti, setup to cleanup. Apparent in her collaborative oeuvre (including Broken Social Scene and Stars) we see a dedicatedly substantial range, palette, and following. Haines’ tonal temporary beauty is rounded tones cruising the jersey wall jagged turn or full stop: “I look like everyone I know now.” Those vowels howl and snarl above any other contemporary vocalist; a woman striking in the era of cock-rocking showman glam, and who retains a lot of her honed cut even on the quieter ballads that comprise a majority of her resume. (Ol’ girl could sing to you with a harp without being an acquired appreciative {activating apretif}; she can tell a story and sink a chorus from different points of view, bottle of joplin tipping bessie ella ma rainey in smoke and serenity; her intimacy never vulnerable nor false.)

“The latest album from Metric, 2012’s Synthetica, keeps the faithful and may convert a few.”

Fantasies (2009) was a darker album: the packaging pictured a bare bulb sparking filaments at moment of current, and sonically it explored digital musical production (the prodigal child autotune rearing in the heyday; the budget of a substantial following in the rising fall of record company ballroom hullaballoo), throwing to the harder edge of Haines after the introspective and often depressing Knives Don’t Have Your Back (2006). Singles graced quite a few network television shows in the flurry of profit imageeneering known as licensing (Grey’s Anatomy chewed quite a few of Metric’s tracks, CSI hung genitalia into “Monster Hospital,” while DeLillo’s Great Jones Street showed that fame required every kind of excess in “Front Row”).

Synthetica borders light colors and lots of white (that blank white light extending to the vinyl itself: pale platter) in an inverted, disorienting landscape. The M.C. Escher aesthetic continues with the lyrics inside and the tracklisting outside: touched with daVinci coding (reverse and professor backwards on a mirror passkey), and a white slash through a black and white cloud as a nod to darkroom development. (What were those things called? Kids these days don’t understand the roar of the greasepaint, the hush of the stop bath. Test strips: two seconds, four seconds, six seconds, eight seconds, ten seconds. As we descend through time, ‘n nothing much else but it.)

“Artificial Nocturne” announces itself in a synth orchestra tune-up; the dirge turns rock’n’roll midsong, as the band tempos harder backbeat, including the lyrical flip that Haines does so well, taking the same words and making the French scene emotional shift.

“Youth Without Youth,” the initial single, is nice trim processional headbobbing; nothing strikingly different than that disco Hewlett Packard commercial of “Grow Up and Blow Away;” well, except for the crisp uniforms and the fabric (handstitched). Haine’s bite is lacking here in words. (“Speed the Collapse” would’ve been a better, if more fatalistic, choice, as well as a possible Radiohead reference [“the comedown of revolving doors”]). Nestled here between follicles, a delicious part, the separation between the dread ambient passion of “Nocturne” and “Collapse” serves a purpose in concert or future recordings as a showcase of the band for vamping virtuosity. The many releases of live and alternate takes show a catalogue attuned within the repetition and variety of performance, adapting songs to evolve (like relevant poetry does).

“Breathing Underwater” hits side B as a U2 desert sandstorm all over the highways. The lyrics (without the music to back them up) slide venomously: “Is this my life? / Am I breathing underwater? / Nights are days / we beat a path / through the mirrored maze / I can see the end / but it hasn’t happened yet.”

“Dreams So Real” is the confessional Haines over drone simple beats, artificial and catchy with eventual autotune echo and strange harmonic rattle and hum: “I shut up and carry on / the scream becomes a yawn / baby, wherever you are / baby, whatever you do / faster than you think / time staggers on.”

The highlights of the album, “Lost Kitten” and “The Void,” seem nestled in the middle of an errand in splitting B and C on the vinyl (in the tradition of the 12” 45 rpm).

“‘Lost Kitten’ is a cooed co-ed jumpy backbeat walk-of-shame over clean rhythm and plinging sound; vibrant and evocative of a thousand interpretations, the sirens of an amplified Haines puts the million pinhead angels in a music box sound keeping up with itself bouncing over the empowering, enabling chorus, breaking, ‘When you lie I cover it up / when you hide I cover it up / when you cry I cover it up / when you come undone I cover it up.'”

There must exist some versions of this song maturing acoustically and sounding, at first, a bit too cringe-worthy and needy; Avril Lavine will want some covers for soundtracks in another decade anyway, although Toni Braxton doing “Lost Kitten” would instantly add five keys and step up Haine’s contra-tenor sass. “The Void” shows Metric at rock roots with a masterful post-production set-a-tools and a simple message: “All night, like a child / I stay up to prove I can keep up with you.” Heartbreak and navel-gazing may result from the escapades described, but it is a terribly present documentary of action as the time of youth speeds, collapsing into aging and death.

“Synthetica” stays within this saturation of clean produced tones and 80’s lines — but with a direct message: “Hey! I’m not synthetica / I’ll keep the life that I’ve got.” Metric, as a rock band with new wave roots, has always married disparate and beat heavy pop with sensible songcraft.

“Clone” echoes this sentiment and yet is the flip side to “Synthetica,” in every sense serving as its (for lack of a better word) negative image. I like to think of it as the evening rendezvous for the lovers’ leave in “Lost Kitten,” with its chorus of passive explanation: “It’s too late in the day / to turn it around / or change my mind / it’s too late in the day / to take you on all the rides /  … we’re already in the aftermath.”

“The Wanderlust” is the weakest piece overall, edging out the fraternal B-side status of the sonics “Breathing Underwater,” “Dreams So Real,” and “Synthetica” just because (as homage to Lou Reed, who does vocals on the track as well) it falls nowhere (I can listen to Metal Machine Music all the way through). It makes me an odd sort of queasy; it feels like the soundtrack to The Falling Girl by Dino Buzzati, done by whoever at the Anthology Film Archives and serving as the establishing shot edifice that stunt-doubled as Doc Oc’s lab in Spiderman 2.

“Nothing But Time” is perfect melodramatic closure. Emily Haines, with her soft skeleton pared-down sound, eventually circulates a system of flesh and organ and finally a shell, landing emotional slams (and provoking criticism of a figurehead lead artist who has cemented her reputation for good work…).

“She croons some advice to heed: ‘I got nothing but time so the future is mine.'”

(”Reflection #2,” an instrumental track, is B-side material — which throws a rant of the digital content depot powers to roll and unlock carts from the train as per the idea that an album is a voltron to be completed finally in an ordered system. Which is not to say that’s good or bad; it’s just a thing.)

Being myself a hegemonic bulldozer of sexism and penetration, my adoration extends toward my preference of gender. Kylie Minogue’s winking single nippled coo and Debbie Harry’s yawning lioness brass: there is something hitting all my pressure points when this lady has a dominant volume. The plateau of innovation can be excused and the Lou Reed appreciated. I give it two Roz’s and a Frasier, but only half a Daphne and Niles on the listening scale.

by Perkus Tooth