Sunday, August 9, 2009

Metric - Fantasies [music review]

* Released in April

Fantasies is the fourth studio album from Toronto-based indie outfit Metric and their first since 2005’s Live It Out (2007’s Grow Up And Blow Away album was actually recorded in 2001 but never released). Frontwoman and face of the band, Emily Haines, has kept busy with two solo releases while other band members participated in their own side projects during Metric’s downtime. Whereas previous Metric albums were written and recorded over a short period of time the band wisely decided to slow things down and let their latest project evolve at a natural pace without time constraints. The year-and-a-half process of creating Fantasies accomodated writing sessions in the woods just outside Seattle, recording sessions in Toronto and New York and occasional breaks for the band members, including Haines’ trip to Argentina as a tonic in helping her deal with some personal losses as well as writer’s block.

The new approach pays immediate dividends as Fantasies is by far Metric’s strongest release to date. Live It Out and 2003’s Old World Underground Where Are You Now? certainly showed promise but were marred by excessive filler that overwhelmed the few exceptional songs on each album. A recent purge of my CD collection found me ripping a total of only five songs from the two discs, not a reason for optimism as I approached Fantasies for a test drive. Much to my surprise I immediately bonded with the music, a feat in itself as Metric has always proved a tough initial listen for me due to the quirkiness of their sound. The quirks are still there but the songs are now much more listenable for a reason I can’t quite put my finger on. The band’s new wave synth/guitar/bass/drums-with-industrial-textures sound remains intact, as are the big chorus hooks, yet it all comes together this time for a collection of ten songs that doesn’t include one worth skipping.

Fantasies is bookended by the two best tracks: opener “Help I’m Alive” moves from a spare industrial dirge to an ominous footstomper pre-chorus to a beautiful chorus propelled by Haines’ falsetto vocals and then repeats the cycle. The closer “Stadium Love” lives up to its name as the ambitious scope of the song seems ready-made for big crowds who can appreciate a good singalong. Sandwiched in between the two are other standouts such as the poppy “Gimme Sympathy”, “Sick Muse” and the slow building moodiness of both “Twilight Galaxy” and “Blindness”.

Metric’s unique signature of balancing dark lyrics, aggressive guitar, poppy hooks and danceable new wave finally result in a winner.

Rating: 8.5/10