At first blush, Metric’s “Synthetica” is perhaps intentionally alienating. The four-piece group of alternative Canadian rockers find themselves inching ever closer to the mainstream, and their fifth effort seems a reaction to the falseness they’ve found along the way – in their generation, in sexuality, in the music industry, and in modern music itself. It’s all become synthetic, manufactured, and Metric dips its toes into that same dangerous stream this time around.
“Synthetica” follows in predecessor “Fantasies’” footsteps when it comes to its very precise, exacting sound, as if a sculptor came along and molded every riff to perfection and took a fine-tuning scalpel to every hook. However, while “Synthetica” keeps the driving guitars and trance-inducing vocals of Emily Haines, it fails to capture “Fantasies’” energy and immediacy, and it’s lacking for it.
In its early tracks, “Synthetica” plays on its themes by introducing more electronic elements than in previous efforts, attempting a commentary on a musical choice and an attitude while playing by the subject’s rules. It’s soulless music with a soul, perhaps best personified in the album opener “Artificial Nocturne,” which boasts gloomy lines like, “I can’t fake the daytime / Found an entrance to escape into the dark.”
The aural experiment trots right up to the line of tolerability (with the fun interlude of “Lost Kitten” thrown in to shake things up) before it seems like Haines herself can’t keep her disdain for artifice bottled up any longer. “I’m not synthetica!” she belts on the tenth and title track, and it’s as if the floodgates of music with feeling have been opened, with the last four songs feeling more comfortable and organic in their electronic underpinnings.
Too sad to be a satire and too disillusioned to be an homage, “Synthetica” feels at times like a bold experiment to make art out of the artless, less embracing of electronic music’s potential beauty (see: Imogen Heap) and more cognizant of its possible danger. While it’s interesting as an idea and well done in execution, many of the early tracks leave one empty. That may be intentional, but good intentions don’t always equal good music.
Recommendation: Buy it if you like the band or if the idea intrigues you.
Best song: “Synthetica”