We first got to know Emily Haines sideways. She slipped quietly into the music we were listening to, singing on Stars’ “Going Going Gone” and “On Peak Hill,” gracing the only Broken Social Scene song I like, adding a lyrical dimension to “Stopwatch Hearts” by Delerium. Then one of us found out — probably my girlfriend, she’s quick that way — that Haines had her own band.
So we bought Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? and were instant fans.
I’ve used the word “immediate” on this project a lot. It applies here. Old World Underground starts off with a bang (“I.O.U.”), not just musically but lyrically: “Every ten year-old enemy soldier
/ Thinks falling bombs are shooting stars sometimes / But she doesn’t make wishes on them.” Metric mean to engage you from the word go. The songs are clearly about something, and they’re direct enough to make it worth listening while remaining oblique enough to admit multiple dimensions and interpretations. And the music, though in some respects as measured as the name implies, is full of pleasurable surprises, repeating the good parts long past the point where other songs would have ungenerously quit, extending verses to get in an extra little punchline. It’s a fantastic album.
But, perhaps apart from their still-cooking early-work album Grow Up and Blow Away, they’ve all been fantastic so far. Live It Out gave things a slightly dirtier edge that took a little getting used to in spots, but in the end yielded maybe their most exciting album. “Too Little, Too Late,” “Poster of a Girl,” “Monster Hospital,” and “The Police and the Private” were probably my favorites, but only “Handshakes” and “Glass Ceiling” are good rather than great. Why they left the incredible “Black Sheep” off Fantasies still baffles me (you can still hear it on the Scott Pilgrim soundtrack — “The Clash at Demonhead” performs it in the movie), but maybe the album was already too full of amazing tracks like “Help I’m Alive,” “Gold Guns Girls,” “Front Row,” “Stadium Love,” and the irresistible “Gimme Sympathy.”
So, really, I could have written about them for any of these albums. I chose Synthetica not because it’s the best — though it might very well be, and I could probably make a good case for it — but because it happened in a quiet year, and we can therefore enjoy it with few distractions.
But what can I say? It’s yet another Metric album, distinctive mainly because it’s even more perfect than the previous four. The weakest track has Lou Reed on it, for god’s sake. They’ve always sounded pretty self-assured, but always a little on edge; here they seem completely comfortable with themselves and where they are, writing songs that sound effortlessly appealing, frictionless, all momentum. Another band in this position could be dull, but not Metric — they’re just doing their best work, that’s all. There isn’t a track I don’t like, but “Youth Without Youth,” “Speed the Collapse,” and “Breathing Underwater” are an especially stirring run.
“Artificial Nocturne” and “Nothing But Time” are like dream curtains you pass through to get in and out of this weird weightless world, an unusual move for a band that usually just jumps in feetfirst but one that works, like crazy. “Lost Kitten” adds a few sharp edges to keep things from getting too evenly gorgeous; “The Void” is lively get-up-and-dance stuff. And then there’s “Clone,” probably my favorite song on the album, full of the ominous (“It’s too late in the day to take you on all the rides / It’s too late in the day to tell me I’m off the path / We’re already in the aftermath”), the beautiful end of the world.
It’s difficult to find a bad word to say about Metric. The worst I can do is to note that Grow Up and Blow Away is just a base hit rather than a home run hit out of the park, and maybe to say that I wish I liked their album covers half as much as I liked their content. They’re not bad as designs go, but somehow always seems slightly disconnected from the music. Old World Underground looks like an ad for skate shoes, and Fantasies looks like a Low record. Live It Out‘s pink punk chaos generally works, and Synthetica‘s disorienting vision of a sort of austere afterlife seems to fit, but still they seem to serve more as a screen between us and the music rather than an invitation inside. I’ve never looked into where their artwork, merchandising, and videos come from, but I wouldn’t be shocked to learn that they opted more to hire their artistic friends for separate unique visions than to exercise tight control over where the art was headed. Still, if it’s a flaw that Metric’s visual identity is so much more fragmented and imperfect than their musical identity, it’s the sort of flaw that makes them more endearing. God, imagine if they made music this great AND had record covers as great as, say, New Order’s. Our heads would all explode.
Beach House, Bloom
I liked Teen Dream a lot, and I think I like this even better. It’s more lucid, more lush, more confident. “Myth,” “Wild,” and “New Year” are all fantastic, and if you haven’t seen the bizarre video for my favorite song “Wishes” starring Ray Wise and full of Twin Peaks vibes, here you go. You can thank me later.
Aimee Mann, Charmer
One of the many charming things about Aimee Mann is that she’s friends with a lot of comedians and keeps showing up on my favorite podcasts. That sense of humor is starting to really show up in her videos, such as the one for “Labrador” where she does a shot-for-shot inversion of the video for “Voices Carry,” and the one for “Charmer” where she buys an Aimee Manndroid (played by Laura Linney) to go on tour and do publicity junkets in her place. The album itself is great, too, maybe her best since I’m With Stupid (which is saying a lot) and featuring winners like “Disappeared,” “Crazytown,” and “Living a Lie.”
Dum Dum Girls, End of Daze EP
I just learned about Dum Dum Girls this past year, and I’m already in love. It’s simple but sublime stuff, the sort of ultra-catchy mashup of 50s/60s girl-group melodies with the fuzzed-out minimalism of Jesus and Mary Chain I always want certain other bands to be but never are. On this EP I especially love “I Got Nothing” and their cover of Strawberry Switchblade’s “Trees and Flowers.”