“I’m just as fucked up as they say,” singer Emily Haines confidently states as the brash opening line to Metric’s newest album, Synthetica, and it is that confidence in her confusion that sets the tone for the rest of this release. The fifth full-length from the Canadian indie darlings sounds pretty much like you’d expect a Metric album to sound—Haines’s distinctly delicate voice layered over snappy drum and bass lines powered by an intense amount of keys—except this time around, everything is just a bit more to the point.
Produced by guitarist Jimmy Shaw, Synthetica is decisive in its point of view. Haines even stated her intent in a letter to Metric’s fans earlier this year, in which she said that the album is about, “being able to identify the original in a long line of reproductions,” among other things. Synthetica is far from a reproduction but does listen like the next logical step after 2009’s Fantasies in its use of the familiarly drum-heavy, shadowy undertones for standout tracks “Youth Without Youth” and “Synthetica.” Haines would never be described as a powerhouse vocalist, but she has found a niche that not only works for her range but enhances it. Ballads “Clone” and album closer “Nothing But Time” are both prime examples of how good this band can sound when everything is balanced exactly right—Haines’s voice perfectly cradled in a bubble of dancing keys and sweet guitar riffs, satisfying a craving for some much-needed emotion.
The change in Metric makes an appearance in the lighter and fluffier pop songs that seem slightly too generic for a band that is usually so distinguishable. “Lost Kitten” feels like an overworked role-playing attempt, with Haines adopting a squeaky extra-girlish voice. The strangest concoction comes in the form “The Wanderlust,” in which Metric teams up with the legendary Lou Reed, but his deep, hefty voice does not mesh with the lightness of Haines and the rest of the pop ballad.
On the whole, there is a lack of connection that makes it hard to qualify Synthetica as an entirely memorable album. Incredibly fitting then, that the main theme of the album is the real versus the artificial, as in many cases that is how the tracks on Synthetica can be divided: those that carry some weight as solidly crafted gems versus those that are destined to be forgotten as flimsy replicas of Metric’s better work.