Review: Metric – Synthetica
Published on July 10th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
According to Metric front lady Emily Haines, Synthetica is “about forcing yourself to confront what you see in the mirror when you finally stand still long enough to catch a reflection. Synthetica is about being able to identify the original in a long line of reproductions. It’s about what is real vs what is artificial”. Don’t know about you, but it’s the line about identifying “the original in a long line of reproductions” that catches the eye when listening to the Canadian four-piece’s sporadically inspired yet ever-so-slightly-too-derivative fifth LP.
Opener “Artificial Nocturne” gets underway with Haines proclaiming “I’m just as fucked up as they say” in her almost Cerys Matthews-like singing voice, and it all seems to be going in a typically ‘serious’/’intense’ electro-pop route before starting to throw in some angular chord changes that make a really good song out of it. In fact it builds into quite the mini-epic, piling on staccato strings and Haines’s delicious aaaahs (exercise caution if reading that aloud) – drums crash and electric guitar wails as part of its fantastic climactic dynamic, before everything’s stripped back for an ornate outro of piano, flute and fizzy synth pad. Quite frankly, it’s one of the best opening tracks of an LP you’ll hear this year.
Ensuing single “Youth Without Youth” doesn’t quite maintain this high standard – it all feels a bit too much like Goldfrapp’s “Spirit in the Sky”-aping period, but its crunchy guitars, swinging rhythm and high-pitched background screeching add up to something of a stomper. “Hangman, we played hide and seek on the fire escape / Through the smoke we saw the flame / It was a long wait until the fire trucks came” – nice to see the lyrics keeping things suitably ominous, too.
The quick-stepping beat, elegant fast-picking and sultry airy vocal of “Speed the Collapse” sounds a bit like Ladytron crossed with seedy Pulp, but by the time relentlessly tonal “Breathing Underwater” comes around you might find yourself itching for the songwriting sophistication evidenced on “Artificial Nocturne”, as grand and full as the mix may be. As “Dreams So Real” puts it: “A scream becomes a yawn”.
“Lost Kitten” wields another swinging “Spirit in the Sky” beat but adds yelpingly attitudinal vocals and a sweetly strummy chorus of “When you lie I cover it up / When you’re high I cover it up / When you cry I cover it up / When you come untied I cover it up” – it’s very good, and paves the way nicely for the phased, squelchy blasts of synth and breezy chorus of “The Void”. “What can I say? / I stay up to prove I can keep up with you all night” sings Haines, giving rise to the suspicion that a sense of having something to prove could galvanise Metric into making the great album they’re clearly capable of.
The title track is an unremarkable, modern indie-disco-garage-rock-whatever fare that only really takes off when it brings in a big brass section at the end, while the Lou Reed-featuring “The Wanderlust” has an echo-y, chiming sweetness about it without ever threatening to be something life-changing – nevertheless, it is certainly preferable to the dreary synth-pop likes of Florence and the Machine et al.
“Nothing But Time” offers more twinkly niceness but this time more affectingly rendered by a rousing percussive build-up and a pensively twiddling organ, although it’s arguably marred by the faintly indie-disco drums insomuch as it feels as if it should be more of a pounding epic. However, it ends in blissful feedback, leaving the curious synth-paddery of Reflections #1, #4, #6, #9 and #11 to see out the album in faintly unorthodox fashion. It is one of many decent ideas across Synthetica, but these are cast into shadow by the presence of the odd great one. Metric are evidently capable of greatness, so it’s frustrating to hear them all too often settling for modernity rather than timelessness.
Rocksucker says: Three Quails out of Five!
Synthetica is out now on Metric Music International. For more information, please visit ilovemetric.com