Metric, ‘Synthetica’ – Album Review
The future might sound like this. That is, if the future is dystopian punk rock — especially if tomorrow holds the peculiar strain of ‘Blade Runner’ beatdowns that Metric purvey so expertly. They’re at their highest point yet in fifth studio album ‘Synthetica,’ a multi-genre meld of post punk, electro pop, and points in between.
“I’m a f—ed up as they say,” pouts Emily Haines to begin on the ‘Artificial Nocturne.’ As driving as it is searching, the track (and the album) have instrumentals that are precisely engineered. There’s rarely a note wasted throughout. ‘Youth Without Youth’ scatters metaphors of destructive childhood — Haines is playing “rubber soul with a razor blade” and “double dutch with a hand grenade” among stomping glam-pop. The gathering tension of ‘Speed the Collapse’ explodes into a meteorological maelstrom: oceans boiling, rivers bleeding and the like. Doomsday was never quite so catchy.
The pessimism gives way to optimism in the glorious ‘Breathing Underwater,’ a starry-eyed, U2-sized stadium filler, the momentum of which is carried into ‘Dreams So Real,’ a smart ballad of generational drift and disenchantment. Haines is not afraid to turn a clever phrase, that “the scream becomes a yawn.”
Not all of the tracks are so memorable-. ‘Lost Kitten’ is not nearly so cute as it sounds, though the fabulous conflagration of ‘The Void’ catches in the ear. The sound that comes to its full fruition here is post-punk with a pop sheen, particularly on the title track, in which Haines declares, “I’m not synthetica / I’ll keep the life that I’ve got.” If synthetica refers to non-organic engineering, which it probably does, the claim is counterintuitive: Why would a group so intensely technological play the Luddite card?
The tuneful, bashful ‘Clone’ sounds like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs at their gentlest, full of floating xylophones and winsome longing. Metric can really make a top-end pop song — they bring in the legendary Lou Reed to feature on ‘The Wanderlust,’ an affectionate, affecting guy-girl duet. The album closes with ‘Nothing But Time,’ where Haines’ vocal layers rejoin themselves among synth squeals, her last words declaring “I got nothing but time / The future is mine.”
Between not being synthetica — whatever that is — and having the future, Metric exhibit a complicated relationship with tomorrow. They are a so sci-fi in their sound, yet the themes here, mainly dealing with relationships, are thoroughly analog. Regardless of the synthesis, ‘Synthetica’ is a singular pop record.