This review can be found at The Yorker, here.
I initially found out about Metric though the film Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, where they composed one of the many guest songs (the film is, in part, about Canadian indie bands, after all), ‘Black Sheep’. I adored this track – it was energetic, but only on the cusp of being aggressive; with seductive vocals by lead Emily Haines, and a chorus that makes you want to air guitar – if you’re a cool person like me.
Their 2010 album, Fantasies, was of a very similar sound to ‘Black Sheep’, and I became a solid a fan of their work. So coming to Synthetica, my expectations were very high, but I was expecting something rather specific. Not to demand that my favourite artists should deliver the same experience with every album, but in a Summer holiday state of mind, an album like Fantasies would be just what the doctor ordered.
Thing is, Synthetica is a rather different pill to swallow.
The message is clear from the opening track, ‘Artificial Nocturne’; the album is a lot more low-key. The vocals and drums are still pride of place, but the quiet, slightly distorted synths and the droning guitars are sedately menacing; it’s a pleasant surprise.
The following track, ‘Youth Without Youth’ is closer to the sound I’m familiar with, but it falls short with the lyric repetition that shows up fairly often in Metric’s songs being performed in an irritating monotone. From there, things go back to the chill vibes, with ‘Speed The Collapse’. The rippling guitars in the background are decidely Muse-ish, with a chorus that actually makes me think of Blackmore’s Night, which makes for an interesting overall tone.
‘Dreams so Real’ sticks out as my favourite of the album – It grabs me from its opening riff, more square wave than guitar string, the chanting repetition of “Shut up and carry on; the scream becomes a yawn” is relaxing in some unnerving way. It’s only 2:40, though. I’d love an extended version that builds up a little more.
‘Lost Kitten’ is fun and kitschy in a twee, coquettish way (right down to an introduction of xylophones and finger snapping), but it feels it would be better suited to an advert for iPhones or UniQlo than my music collection. ‘The Void’ hits you with a really annoying synth distort, and doesn’t really manage to redeem itself afterwards. It’s also rather cutesy, but nowhere near as endearing as ‘Lost Kitten’.
As the title track, ‘Synthetica’ is solid- a more traditional Metric sound. The vocals are more languid than say, ‘Help I’m Alive’, but it fits perfectly with the rest of the album’s tone, and that kind of consistency is a positive in my book.
‘The Wanderlust’ is very much an oddity, built upon distant, watery piano – and out of nowhere, male vocals from Lou Reed on the chorus, evoking a folk rock-style sound. It took me a few listens to get into it, but its uniqueness won me over.
It’s worth mentioning that there are 5 additonal bonus tracks (available on Spotify and via iTunes preorder, at least) that are synth-heavy 80’s-ish versions of melodies from the album. It’s an odd addition, but I honestly like it a lot. It reminds me of the ‘Exogenesis’ tracks on Muse’s The Resistance – in fact, the album as a whole reminds me of that divisive endeavour; especially since Synthetica is a big drift from Metric’s normal sound.
It would be all too easy to take Synthetica at first glance and go “It’s different; I don’t like it”, and maybe the more relaxed and less punchy composition honestly isn’t for you – but there’s no denying that this album is solidly made and will fit snugly in the collections of those who open to a little Shoegaze in their lives.
So hipsters, basically.