Metric has always lingered on the dark side of pop music. While their compositions at times sound sugary and light, there’s always been an unsettling twinge to Emily Haines’s voice and her words cut even sharper. While this constant contrast ‒ or maybe even contradiction ‒ could seem exhaustive, Metric always seems to know how to balance these dual personalities. They rarely veer into the punk direction too far and they, thankfully, avoid the slippery “emo” slope. They are committed to making really good pop songs, with a rock edge. On Synthetica, their fifth studio album, Metric takes another step forward, asserting themselves as one of the foremost acts in indie rock/pop.
Haines has one of the most demanding jobs of any frontwoman in indie rock. The album runs through her, and it’s up to her to give the album the flare and humanity it demands. The lyrics here aren’t exactly subtle and Haines has the unforgiving task of shouting and dramatically emoting many of these pop ballads. A lesser vocalist could have stumbled, but Haines proves her worth track after track. On “Breathing Underwater,” one of the darker tracks on the album, Haines’s chorus, exclaiming “Is this my life? Am I breathing underwater?” has just the right amount of force, with a healthy dash of hopeless resignation. “Speed the Collapse” is a fast-paced track that builds on itself until a pretty rewarding climax. It’s the type of song that makes Metric’s comparisons to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs all the more logical. The album’s opener, “Artificial Nocturne” is a subdued entrance into the fairly bleak world this album depicts. Midway through (at almost six minutes long, it’s the album’s lengthiest), the guitars blaze in, soon followed by piercing strings. The song’s subdued prologue is echoed later on “Dreams So Real,” which is one of the darkest, greatest things Metric has ever created. It’s one of the boldest musical choices on the album, fit with stripped down instrumentals and deceptively complex composition. This stripped down background works so well because Haines’s words are so honest. “Have I ever really helped anyone but myself?” she asks.
Metric has a bone to pick on all these songs, and I believe them. I believe they are angry. I believe they are disappointed. I believe they are lost. And that’s all it comes down to: if you see sincerity in these words, Synthetica will work for you. The songs are well constructed ‒ and really catchy ‒ for the most part, but Metric do not rest on their ability to craft a really good pop song. They decide to deal in extreme emotions. The moment you question the validity of such emotions is the moment Metric loses you. Maybe I’m blinded by the wonderful melodies or Haines’s dramatic flare. No matter. I found myself believing.
MP3: Metric “Dreams so Real”
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