After four long years, Canadian indie-pop powerhouse Metric is releasing its fourth full-length studio album, called Fantasies. Their last effort, 2005’s Live It Out, saw the band exploring the realm of discord and jarring riffs — Metric had always been known for their spotless beat-driven tracks with lush rhythmic synth and guitar accompaniment. The lead singer, Emily Haines, topped off the orchestration with the voice of a pixie, which turned out to be surprisingly versatile. The material on Live It Out, while still very catchy and instrumentally clean, had some surprising moments for Metric veterans — heavily distorted guitars appeared on many tracks, often after periods of tranquility (the instrumentation of “Patriarch on a Vespa” is straight out of the grunge era).
The time between albums was not idly spent. Fantasies, the band’s first self-financed release, is a refreshing step in a completely new direction, or rather, many new directions. The album is all over the place, which manages to showcase Metric’s versatility without detracting from the continuity of the work. It draws from some unexpected genres — “Twilight Galaxy” has what appears to be a trip-hop beat, and the chorus of the wonderful “Gimme Sympathy” can’t decide if it belongs in a power pop single or a dance-hall house number.
Despite the range in sounds employed, the progression of the album itself is entirely standard — anyone who’s ever seen an English teacher map out a novel’s plot structure will be familiar with the various peaks and valleys of Fantasies. The crescendo-laden exposition of “Help I’m Alive” sets the stage for the rest of the album. Standard Metric fare, like “Sick Muse,” provides the rising action, with the more serene tracks, like “Twilight Galaxy,” showing traces of tension that help move things along. The record hits its climax with “Gimme Sympathy.” More than anything, it’s the album’s intensity rather than its organization that is noteworthy and largely unseen in the band’s previous efforts (but hinted at by the darkness of Haines’ 2006 solo release). Still, it is undeniable that the story-like quality contributes to a feeling of completeness at the record’s end.
There is a deep driving force behind every song on the album; even “Collect Call,” a track that serves as a respite from “Gimme Sympathy,” pushes on inexorably with undeniable energy. “If somebody’s got soul, you’ve gotta make a move,” pleads Haines, in one of the album’s most hushed, evocative numbers. The beautiful “Blindness,” which has the feeling of a sad girl singin’ her blues away, would have made a logical denouement, but that would have been too easy. I guess the band figured that ending an album as grandiose as Fantasies on a less-than-bombastic note would have been a total letdown, so they threw in the aptly-named “Stadium Love” (which indeed has enough sound to fill a stadium) as a resolution to the unhappiness framed in the preceding track. The song is overblown, but it works, bringing the album to an end with an overwhelmingly positive mood.
Metric has always been fairly shallow lyrically, mainly employing snappy one or two-liners that carry more wit than meaning. They form vignettes and convey emotions without making statements, which has always been fine — Haines’ voice turns simple and abstruse lyrics alike into ear candy. The album runs the full gamut of lyrical quality, but even poetically weak songs like “Twilight Galaxy” are, if not substantive, at least pleasing to the ear. Overall, though, it seems that the band’s compositions are becoming more pointed; most of the songs in this release do have some prevailing image that they get across. But Metric has never been about the lyrics, or at least about the meaning of the lyrics; the songwriting caters to Haines, allowing her to form the most sultry and appealing vocal patterns possible. Listen to her croon “I can feel you most when I’m alone” on “Satellite Mind,” and you’ll understand.
It’s debatable whether Fantasies eclipses the earlier entries in Metric’s already illustrious discography. Still, it seems that the band has figured out how to tell a complete story rather than simply taking a series of snapshots.
Notable Tracks: “Help I’m Alive,” “Satellite Mind,” “Gimme Sympathy,” “Collect Call”
Fantasies is available on iTunes and will be released to record stores on April 14th.