Metric’s 2009 breakout-hit Fantasies earned the band mainstream radio recognition and critical acclaim, but it also squarely placed the Canadian band in a bit of a mid-career crisis…a crisis which in turn gives us the quiet tension of Synthetica.
If lead singer Emily Haines was ever inclined to make mainstream pop music as a darker version of Katy Perry or Lily Allen, now would be the time to do it… Instead, Synthetica looks before it leaps, allowing the band to pause and reconnect with its past before easing into it’s future. The record’s first half is dominated by the haunting sonic landscapes that define the band’s catalog; doomsday anthem “Speed The Collapse,” for example, pulses with creeping guitar, driving percussion, and icy vocals like most of Metric’s new wave-inspired output, it’s simultaneously foreboding and catchy.
From Synthetica’s opening moment – Haines proclaiming “I’m just as f***ed up as they say” – it is apparent that this is not a band gently lapsing into polite mid-career safeness. The tone, in fact, is often more that of an alienated adolescent, with Artificial Nocturne’s tales of “an outsider’s escape for a broken heart”, or single Youth Without Youth’s slightly overegged attitude: “We played Rubber Soul with the razor blade.”
The quiet tension of “Dreams So Real,” with its minimalist execution and themes of artistic futility (“Our parents, daughters, and sons / believed in the power of songs / What if those days are gone? … I’ll shut up and carry on / The scream becomes a yawn”), brings this brief retrospective respite to its cynical conclusion. The unusually playful-sounding “Lost Kitten” follows, which indicates a shift is taking place. The record’s second half is a noticeably poppy and slick affair, which is a cautious progression from Fantasies’ glam experiments.
Kicking off this run of lush melodies, the title track reconfigures the band’s normally shadowy synths to add bouncy, energetic contrast to heavy punk riffs. By the close of “Clone,” spaced-out electronics bubble and sparkle on everything from slinky midtempo hooks to garish Eurodance. That’s not to say the group is only an album away from supplying soundtracks for dance clubs—Haines’ angst-laden lyrics demonstrate a strong resistance to pop stardom. On Synthetica, Metric isn’t necessarily making a transition; they’re simply taking stock of where they’ve been before figuring out where they’re going.