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ALBUM: Synthetica from Metric

In 2008, indie-rockers Metric crooned “Help, I’m Alive.”  It’s 2012, and Metric is still very, very alive, their newest album being anything but disappointing.  The four-piece band from Toronto gave themselves a tough act to follow after the highly acclaimed Fantasies in 2009–it topped a couple charts and snagged Metric two Juno awards.

But Metric’s fifth studio album, Synthetica, is a different kind of success.  The album is aptly named–it’s a wonderland of synth tones accompanying traditional guitar and drums–but Synthetica is an introspective adventure in music. Synthetica doesn’t just describe the album’s sound.  Frontwoman Emily Haines instead explains it as “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.”  I don’t think Haines is just talking about the synthesizer.  With its amped-up lyrics and instrumentals, the album explores the gap between what’s real and what’s artificial.

Metric -classy in black and white. Real? or artificial?

Synthetica opens with the haunting reverb of “Artificial Nocturne.”  Kicking off the introspection of the album, Haines’s first words are “I’m just as f***** up as they say.”  Like many of the tracks on Synthetica, “Artificial Nocturne” has a rich couple layers of sound. Haines hooks us with her synthesizer, weaving it with electronic and guitar harmonies and drawing us into the curious world of Synthetica.

The album’s first single, “Youth Without Youth,” is less eerie in its instrumentals, instead boasting a killer guitar line.  The lyrics, however–a dark twist on children’s games–start out listeners with a message of disillusioned youth.  It’s a good song to pick as the single– one of the most fast-paced on the album, with drums that beg listeners to rock out, but without compromising Metric’s solemn soul-searching theme.   Check it out live and acoustic at the Rolling Stone’s studio session.

Synthetica goes on to wow with tracks like “Breathing Underwater,” a rich instrumental masterpiece that evokes U2 or Coldplay’s Mylo Xyloto as it should have been done, and the apocalyptic “Speed the Collapse.”  The quieter, more reflective “Clones” is also well worth many listens.  The final track, “Wanderluster,” is a treat–a collaboration with Lou Reed of The Velvet Underground.  If you ask me, the single “Youth Without Youth,” though good, is hardly indicative of Synthetica or what one can find as favorites with a couple listens.

Less memorable songs–“Lost Kitten,” ‘The Void”–are nevertheless musically tight and contribute to the album as a package.  Nothing sloppy here, and where originality falls short, Haines’s crystal vocals pick up at least some of the slack.  “Synethetica” the song, however, is not as stunning as the titular track for such a well composed album should be. The song, however, does provide a nice summary of Metric’s tug-of-war between artificial and genuine.  “Hey, I’m not synthetica/I’ll keep the life that I’ve got/so hard, hard to resist/Synthetica.”

But see for yourself– the entire album can be streamed here.

“Have I ever really helped anyone but myself/To believe in the power of songs?” Emily Haines croons in “Dreams So Real.”  If Synthetica means anything, Emily, then yes you have.  Synthetic = artificial, fake, insincere.  Synthetica = genuine, rich, thoughtfully and originally crafted. It’s a nice conclusion to reach after living Haines’s confused introspection with her, song by song.  The album is available for streaming but dropping officially on June 12, 2012.  Keep your heads up–Metric only climbing up in quality.

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