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Music Review: Metric – Synthetica

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As participants in the music world, we are often trusted—sometimes, perhaps, too much—to glean what we can from what we are fed by the industry. It is left up to us to decide what it was that drove the songwriter’s pen, and what led him/her to create what we are now listening to, since insightful album commentary from the artist is infrequent (on original releases, as reissues can be a different story).

In a letter to fans, posted on Metric’s website in February of 2012, singer Emily Haines took back a bit of that trust by laying it all out on the table: “Synthetica is about staying home and wanting to crawl out of your skin from the lack of external stimulation … It’s about what is real vs. what is artificial.” Now armed with an instruction manual, our job as listeners becomes finding that meaning in the songs.

“Artificial Nocturne” opens the album with a dreamy two-minute climb into the real meat of the song. The first words listeners hear going into Synthetica are what may be a response to comments on Haines’ inclination toward misery and darkness: “I’m just as fucked up as they say/I can’t fake the daytime/I found an entrance to escape into the dark.” From there, she seems to reiterate the statement she’s already made. It’s that Synthetica is a commentary on the need to distinguish what is natural and what is contrived as she paints us into a landscape of manufactured darkness, both literal and metaphoric.

It is easy to take “Lost Kitten” at its face value and infer a story of parents meeting a child they’d given up after the child had grown up, via the lyrics: “You’ve got my eyes/You’ll never be mine but you’ve got my eyes.” It’s possible, however, that “Lost Kitten” is just as much a story of seeing something of yourself in a place you’re not wholly comfortable seeing it.

“The Wanderlust” became a bit of a flailing fangirl moment for me as the unexpected and unmistakeably familiar voice of Lou Reed sneaked in behind Haines and commanded attention with a very simple proclamation that “the wanderlust will carry us on.” To be honest, however, Reed’s cameo really is the highlight of the song for me; without it, it offers nothing else that could be considered extraordinary or spectacular. With or without Reed, “The Wanderlust” is syrupy and reminiscent of the 1980s synth pop Metric has clearly taken influence from.

Metric has displayed a subtle evolution of sound from one album to the next throughout their career. To the passive listener, it is often unclear where these developments have occurred and that is surely the case coming off of the previous album Fantasies. The differences between it and Synthetica are restrained and quiet but still apparent. Overall, Synthetica, for Metric fans and for fans of the new wave style, is well worth a spin or three.

Synthetica is the fifth studio album from Canadian new wave quartet, Metric. It is out now in mp3, CD, and vinyl formats where available.

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About D. Gabrielle Jensen

D. Gabrielle Jensen is a writer, cosmetologist and amateur photographer - not always in that order - who wants to live in several major cities, feels most at home in general admission at a small concert venue, and dreams of touring with a band as their private stylist and tour blogger and of honing her photography skills. She has tattoos handwritten by three of her music idols and hopes to continue the collection.