Does The New Metric Album Measure Up?
It’s almost embarrassing how long it took me to discover Metric. First off, they’re from Toronto, which is practically in my backyard. They also create 80s inspired dance pop and techno, two of my favorite genres. I suspect that they aren’t better known just because they seem so retro. It wasn’t until 2012 that that I ran into them through their near perfect techno song, “Breathing Underwater”. It that metaphorically smacked me right in the face making them hard to ignore.
Since that album, Synthetica, they have had two other albums that, honestly, didn’t rise to the same level. They weren’t bad albums, but after Synthetica, they felt dull and lifeless. Clearly, they needed to change up their style before they were buried in mediocrity. The good news is that their new album Formentera, does just that. The music is still often 80s inspired but no longer constrained within the dance pop and techno sound. Instead, Metric plays with different styles ranging from EDM to progressive rock. They do this within a framework of their strengths, especially Emily Haines’ wonderful voice and brilliant guitar work by James Shaw. The result is an album that hangs together well while breaking free from the rigid 80s styles that have defined the band up until now. They accomplish this trick by pulling elements of the 80s sound, for example guitar work reminiscent of The Edge, and combining it with more modern features while stretching into more rock genres.
At first, I was a bit worried about Formentera. The opening song, “Doomscroller”, has one of those ridiculous heavy metal names. Weirder yet, it is a pure EDM song, all beat and little else. My immediate thought was that they had dropped all pretense of doing anything creative and just become a mediocre EDM band. Turns out, “Doomscroller” was more of an intro to the album and didn’t indicate how the rest would come together. Thank goodness! I wonder if it was a bit of a joke by the band designed to make fans go “WTF?” The next song, “All Comes Crashing” assuaged by fears. The song starts with hushed Billie-Eilish-like vocals that suddenly bursts open with 80s rock sounds. It’s a great combination of past and present as Haines’ sweet vocals play against Shaw’s blistering guitar attack.
Remembering their fans, Metric delivers a lot of 80s goodness in Formentera. “False Dichotomy” and “What Feels Like Eternity” are very much in the vein of jittery 80s dance pop ala Berlin. Thankfully, Metric doesn’t just fall into the trap of delivering the same ole same ole. The title track, “Formentera”, is like a modernized Madonna with 80s techno beats. It is not, however, as breezy and stylized as the Madonna of that era. Metric keeps the vocals urgent and the tempo more moderate, such that it almost seems like modern indie pop. “Enemies of the Ocean” is nearly a progressive rock song, with a big rock sound backed by synths. Towards the end of the album, we have the upbeat “Oh Please”. It is a pastiche of 80s styles that, in the hands of a lesser band, might be a mess. With Metric we get this very interesting, and danceable fusion of Goth guitar plus new wave staccato vocals. Imagine if fellow Canadians Martha and the Muffins merged with The Cult. Sounds like hell when I say it, but Metric makes it work. This is an example of a gestalt – where the whole exceeds the sum of the parts.
The final track, “Paths in the Sky” starts like another minimalist EDM joke but segues quickly into pure 80s new wave. It was if they wanted to leave with a gift to their fans. Formentera
is a gift, not only to Metric’s fans, but to all modern music lovers. It has retro inspiration but doesn’t sound old or copycat. I’m not sure if I like it better than Synthetica, but that doesn’t matter. It’s a great album which deserves more attention.