Unless you are hip, in the know, part of the CMJ-reading crowd, or Canadian, most likely Metric is one of the coolest bands you have yet to hear. You might have heard their song, “Monster Hospital” a few years back on “Grey’s Anatomy,” but to date, that may very well be their highest profile placement. The band has never issued a weak album. They have always been remarkably consistent in their greatness. “Fantasies” is their fourth record and with its gigantic production and monstrously pop-driven hooks, it’s most likely to be their entry into the big leagues.
Leader, Emily Haines is one of the smartest rock songwriters working today. (As a collaborator in Broken Social Scene, she is a titan in the Canadian indie-rock scene.) Here, her songs, thick with images of isolation, are at their most vibrant. In between Metric’s last record, (2005’s “Live It Out”) and this, she recorded two very haunting releases under the name, “Emily Haines & the Soft Skeleton. Those were ethereal and piano-based. Hearing the sheer density of “Fantasies,” it’s clear that she’s constantly growing and changing shape as a writer. According to a mini-documentary, easily found on youtube, the songs on “Fantasies” were written after Haines escaped to Buenos Aires in an attempt to isolate herself. According to her own narrative, she was thinking about quitting song-writing all together. That would’ve been a real shame. Luckily, she found inspiration and wrote some of her most jarring and effective work to date.
“Help I’m Alive,” the album’s opener shows the band at their strongest. Haines’ lyrics reflect her sad, on the brink status and serve as a cry for help. “I tremble. / They’re gonna eat me alive. / If I stumble, / They’re gonna eat me alive. / Can you hear my heart beating like a hammer?” Drummer, Joules Scott-Key (along with perhaps a sequencer) keeps an almost industrial beat behind her. The band is fleshed out by bassist Joshua Winstead and guitarist Jimmy Shaw. Shaw appeared on Haines’ Soft Skelton records, while during the off-time, Scott-Key and Winstead formed the in-your-face, punk duo Bang Lime. If you are a Metric fan, these records are recommended listening. I stated before how the Soft Skeleton’s work influenced the band, but post Bang Lime, Metric rock even harder than before. They’ve been getting more aggressive with each album, so this was definitely expected, but this record is their boldest rock statement. Producer Gavin Brown (with assistance from Shaw) makes the band sound gigantic. A lesser group would’ve crumbled under such echo and bigness. Somehow, the tracks’ sonic immensity makes the songs even better. It’s a testament to Haines as a songwriter and the band’s strong cohesion. “Help, I’m Alive” goes from being synth-based to being guitar-centric with ease. Haines’ voice changes octaves at the drop of a hat and it all is very seamless. This is the band’s strongest song since “Combat Baby” from their 2003 album, “Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?”
“Sick Muse” has Haines equating love and illness. “Watch out Cupid stuck me with a sickness/ Pull your little arrows out, / Let me live my life.” Over a churning rock groove, there is a dark energy as she discusses a love she does not want. As the song turns to its chorus, it bangs itself into something bright and anthemic. As if giving orders to blind masses she commands, “Everybody , everybody just want to fall in love. / Everybody, everybody just want to play the lead.” It’s as striking as it is melodic. This is some of the brightest, loudest new-wave you will hear all year.
“Satellite Mind” enters with a dose of atmosphere and then the bass and guitars growl their way in. Much like the two tracks before it, this is a winning, single-ready, new-wave driven number. Haines’ retro-eighties keyboard line gives the track extra punch.
“Twilight Galaxy” is much less guitar-centric. In fact, it finds the group exploring their electro-roots. Often on Metric albums, the dynamic shifts from song to song. Rockers would sit next to Haines’ keyboard exercises. Here, as the other members take more of a back-seat, Haines is allowed to play with electronic textures while singing, “I’m higher than high. / I’m lower than deep.” Somehow, ultimately this song carries the same heft as its much harder predecessors. The production is really balanced.
“Gold Guns Girls” is a full-throttle, charging rocker about an insatiable thirst for excess. It’s yet another winner.
“Gimme Sympathy” balances the rock side with the synth-side of the band in a very appealing way. This should find the band mainstream gold as Haines’ asks the rock and roll question, “Who’d you rather be, the Beatles or the Rolling Stones?”
“Collect Call” is darker and more textural. Haines sings at a near-whisper while a subtle dance beat keeps the rhythm. As the beat picks up for the chorus, a swirling keyboard section is introduced and Haynes’ voice is layered and harmonized. Again, this softer moment is just as stirring as the album’s louder ones.
“Front Row” is a shiny piece of snarling rock. Cynically, Haines sings, “Burnout stars, they shine so bright.” Celebrity destruction has now become a spectator sport. Like the rest of this album, this track would make a stellar single.
“Blindness” is another low-key track. Here, Haines sings in her lowest voice about “survivors.” As the song picks up and the drums kick in, she sings, “You gave me a life I never chose. / I want to leave but the world won’t let me go.” Clearly, this is an ode to sadness and a battle to win in a life and death struggle.
“Stadium Love” closes the record. It rocks the hardest of any of the record’s tracks. Ending this album on a loud, upbeat note keeps the emphasis on Metric’s bright song structures. This is booming, dynamic track, fitting the enormity of its title.
“Fantasies” is essentially a virtually flawless rock record, highly worth your attention. If there is any justice in the world, Metric should be one of the most popular bands. Emily Haines is a gripping songwriter. Her songs should be heard and celebrated.