Sometimes the trick to keeping a fresh approach can be to change one’s sound just enough for its audience to be caught off guard, but not so much to leave an established audience completely and utterly baffled. For a good example, look to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ It’s Blitz!, which, coincidentally is an album by a band that Metric are regularly compared to. The band already had a winning formula — a ferocious, no-holds-barred guitar attack, complemented with the vocals of Karen O, whose delivery alternates between sweetness and aggressive shrieks. Yet by the third album, the band removed some of the harshness from their music and added in some danceable synthesizers, making for a newly exciting permutation. And now it seems that Metric have taken a similar tack.
Fifth album Synthetica still features some of the trademarks of previous Metric outings like Fantasies and Live It Out, such as the girlish voice of lead singer Emily Haines, as well as the combination of snarly guitars and uptempo rhythmic drums, and yet it carries an energy that is rare for a fifth album. Though the band could have likely stuck to a familiar formula and gotten a good amount of mileage out of it, there’s a new sense of urgency to the album. Synthetica is tightly wound and full of energy.
Album opener “Artificial Nocturne” is a perfect example of a tight, veteran act that sounds like they love what they’re doing. The band clearly knows their strengths and weaknesses, and stick to their familiar new wave guns, whilst also experimenting more through their enhanced use of synthesisers. “Artificial Nocturne” bristles and buzzes, and for a good portion relies on the combination of just these and Haines’ vocals to build up the tension. There’s a strong feeling that at any point, the song is going to explode. It’s almost filmic, all too easy to picture at the beginning of an action movie, quickening the pace as the protagonist dodges bullets and jumps off of buildings.
The album continues in this vein on lead single “Youth Without Youth,” which, while reminiscent of traditional early Metric material, powers along to an almost military march. Thereafter, the majority of the album is much lighter, and plays around with the band’s newfound embrace of atmospheric synths. While the band deserves some applause for exploring new realms, their new methods don’t quite work all the time, sometimes resulting in a string of repetitive sounds that begin to blend together. Yet whatever missteps are there don’t derail an otherwise solid album, worth exploring if for no other reason than its excellent first few tracks.
Stream: Metric – “Youth Without Youth”