They say there’s no time like the present; what they really mean is there’s no such thing as the present. Five seconds into the future will be five seconds in the past once you finish reading this sentence. Life in the modern world so often boils down to taking comfort in the days of old or praying for some idealized future. Translated into rock ‘n’ roll, terms, it means you’re either ahead of your time or past your prime. And we’re cool with that.
But Metric don’t let you off that easy.
Their measures are decidedly cubist: eternal, multi-layered portraits of instantaneous moments, the luminous blur of street life rendered as a freeze-tableaux, daily rituals portrayed in a fantastical light. This is music born out of sly, considered observation instead of gratuitous introspection — which makes it refreshingly anomalous in an era when so much popular music fudges the line between self-absorption and self-parody.
Through their eight-year creative partnership, singer/synth specialist Emily Haines and guitarist James Shaw have never settled long enough to be defined by any city, scene or style. Toronto made them friends, Montreal turned them into soulmates, London brought them songs, Brooklyn made them a band and, finally, their current tenure in L.A. has resulted in their debut album, OLD WORLD UNDERGROUND, WHERE ARE YOU NOW?, produced by Michael Andrews (Donnie Darko soundtrack) and released late last year on Everloving Records.
Truth be told, this is actually Metric’s second debut album. After moving from Montreal to Brooklyn in 1998, James and Emily formed Metric as a home-recording project in their Brooklyn loft. A publishing deal with Chrysalis UK brought Metric to London, where, with the assistance of New Order producer Stephen Hague, they recorded a batch of drum-machine-driven electro-pop songs that would form the basis of a debut album titled GROW UP AND BLOW AWAY.
Upon returning to Brooklyn in 2000, Metric experienced two major developments: a deal with L.A. indie Restless Records, and the recruitment of drummer Joules Scott-Key. However, 2001 would prove to be a year of waiting and stagnation, and while Restless perpetually delayed the release of the record, Metric grew, well, restless. In the meantime, the arrival of a live drummer had a serious transformative effect on the band’s sound: electronic experimentation, elaborate studio arrangements and stately stage presence gradually gave way to raw rock catharsis, dancefloor drive and increasingly uninhibited performances.
Feeling stifled by a combination of the Restless holdups, Metric would relocate to Toronto in the winter of 2001, performing club residencies and collaborating with old friends Broken Social Scene on their 2002 critical hit, YOU FORGOT IT IN PEOPLE.
However, immediately after a star-making showcase at Toronto’s Canadian Music Week festival in March 2002, Metric packed up the van once more and set out for Los Angeles. Again, the move spurred a major development: i.e., the long-awaited dissolution of the band’s Restless deal. However, instead of trying to salvage an album of two-year-old songs that bore scant resemblance to the band’s current live configuration, Metric scrapped GROW UP AND BLOW AWAY for good and started over from scratch.
Almost immediately, the approach paid off: one of the band’s new demos, the punchy power-popper “Combat Baby,” became an instant staple on Nic Harcourt’s influential KCRW show Morning Becomes Eclectic in the spring of 2002. That summer, the band enlisted bassist Joshua Winstead (an old friend of Joules’) to shore up the rhythm section. By January 2003, Metric had completed an entire new record, OLD WORLD UNDERGROUND, WHERE ARE YOU NOW? in mere weeks. “We banged this record out in 30 days, all live,” Haines says. “You always look back at your work and fuss over it, and we all agreed the fussing over it was kind of missing the point. We just pounded out the new music we wanted to make.” (However, the victory would prove somewhat bittersweet: on the final day of recording, Emily’s father Paul Haines – an acclaimed poet who had collaborated with the likes of Carla Bley, Robert Wyatt and Albert Ayler – passed away suddenly.)
Like all of Metric’s music to date, OLD WORLD UNDERGROUND, WHERE ARE YOU NOW? isn’t so much a summation of influences as experiences. The album’s titular question speaks to old friends in a new city, trying to make sense of a world where war coverage feels like just another contrived reality TV show (“Succexxy”), where class lines are drawn with velvet ropes (“The List”), where propped-up fashion-mag rock stars retrace history’s steps under the delusion that they’re breaking new ground (“Dead Disco”). “It’s strange to think a lot of new music is modeled on the past already, and then people are modeling themselves on people who model themselves on the past,” Haines says. “I do think we’re in a recycling era, everything’s so retro. People should recycle more plastic and less culture.”
Stalking the urban catwalks, Haines keeps a detached distance, careful not to be seduced by the stimuli around her; while her voice has an alluringly sweet surface, it betrays the battle scars of disillusionment. Likewise, Shaw’s primal guitar spasms are seduced by a precise, disco-ball-busting rhythm section and swirling synth melodies that encourage Metric to take on their cultural targets with straight-on satire instead of seething contempt. “I think we’re all a little less reclusive than we were before,” Haines says. “I think it’s because the music I’ve always listened to has been the music my friends are making, and then a bunch of my friends started doing well, so I was forced into the broader climate of what’s going on. But I still feel like I’m drawn to the same themes as I’ve always written about — I’m still fucking wandering around.”
Where Metric’s next rent check will be cashed is a mystery, one the band is not too eager to solve, because doing so would mean succumbing to the great enemy of inspiration: premeditation. And while they may never find the comforting, enlightened Old World Underground they so romanticize; they’re not sure if it ever truly existed. But the world they’ve built for themselves on their new record will most definitely do. For now. “This band,” says Emily, “will always take new shapes.” - Stuart Berman
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Metric- A teenage point of of view | Reviewer: Ashlee | 12/29/2005
Metric is an up-and-coming band in my record book. Their songs both move me and make me wonder. Little situations that are basically nothing, transformed into beauitful songs of thought and dreams. Metric is one of those bands that no matter what songs they do, it's always good. Metric is also one of those bands that every song they do is different. From slow and meaningful songs like "London Halflife" to up-beat and different songs like "Dead-Disco". They have a totally unique sound and they're not all hogging up the lime-light. I recommend Metric to any "underground" music lover or in that case any music lover. They're music is compelling and great to sooth or get you mad. Metric is great.
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