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LP (12" album, 33 rpm)
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Limited 180gm vinyl LP pressing including download code. 2012 release, the fifth album from the Indie Electro Rock band. According to Metric's frontwoman Emily Haines, Synthetica is "about forcing yourself to confront what you see in the mirror when you finally stand still long enough to catch a reflection. Synthetica is about being able to identify the original in a long line of reproductions. It's about what is real vs what is artificial". Features 'Youth Without Youth' and 'The Wanderlust', a collaboration with Lou Reed.
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Frontwoman Emily Haines has always played with lyrical themes about coming of age and political activism. In the past, there's been a lot of energy and even fury behind her words, which she conveys well with her beautiful and dynamic voice. Well, goodbye to all that. With Synthetica we get a burned out, jaded and cynical Haines, doubtful that anything she has done has ever made a difference, questioning whether she's finally sold out and realizing that hey, she's not so young anymore.
The production of the album reflects this, and also the obvious social commentary on the 'synthetic' world we live in: it's very cold, with the synthesizers way up in the mix and Emily's fiery vocals way down. In fact, in the chorus of the lead single, "Youth Without Youth," she's reduced to backing a vocoded sample of her own voice.
I love rock and I love new wave, so I have no problem with Metric taking either direction. And the band's solid songwriting skills are still on display here, with tracks like "Dreams So Real," the catchy chorus of which consists of the repeated line "I'll shut up and carry on / the scream becomes a yawn." But as a whole, Synthetica leaves me cold. And I think probably that's is supposed to, that it was conceived, written and recorded as an ode to cynicism. If so, it's a success.
But that doesn't mean I have to like it.
"Artificial Nocturne" is a great way to open the record. It's the kind of moody and atmospheric track that Metric excels at and fans will instantly feel at home within the soundscapes and twists that it offers. "Youth Without Youth", the album's first single, is both catchy and rife with electronic buzzes, building a half-rock, half-electronic song that sticks in your head. Again, it's nothing that Metric hasn't done before but they do what they do well and it's hard to fault them for sticking with their unique and energetic sound. "Breathing Underwater" is the album's standout track and makes great use of Emily Haines' amazing voice. This song in particular effortlessly soars and it's definitely a contender for one of their best tunes to date.
The first half of the album is solid but the second half falters just a bit. "Lost Kitten" and "Dreams So Real" are decent tracks but ultimately lack the impact and melody that they need to make a lasting impression. The dance-influenced "The Void" has some promise but the repetitive lyrics and simple song structure just never take off the hope you hope they will. Thankfully, things pick back up with the album's title track. It's an energetic and fast-paced rocker that harkens back to the band's previous album. Lou Reed even makes an appearance on "The Wanderlust", which is downright cool. The piano-tinged closer "Nothing But Time" is solid and ends things on a high note.
One thing I really want to commend the group on is the album artwork and I strongly urge you to by the physical CD. Besides the upside down cover shot, the tracklisting on the back and even the lyrics inside are all written backwards. At first this is a bit disorienting until you discover that the CD comes packaged with a glossy, mirrored sheet. Hold this up to the words and suddenly you can easily read them. It's little touches like this that make a big impression on me and kudos to the band for putting that kind of thought into the record's presentation, especially since the themes of the album deal with searching for what's real and cutting through clones and false appearances.
Overall, Synthetica is another solid offering and certainly a worthy addition to the band's discography. It's a bit hit-and-miss to be completely cohesive but that kind of diversity also works in the album's favor. Any type of music fan will probably be able to find something here that they enjoy and what didn't bowl me over may keep you coming back. If only the second half had been a tad stronger it could have been a contender for their best work yet. As it stands, it's a slightly inconsistent yet fun piece of work that's worth checking out for the musically curious.
Drawing on themes from dependence on technology, paranoia, and isolation (the same ingredients of Radiohead's OK COMPUTER), this album works lyrically better than other Metric albums. Many of the Emily Haines lyrics evoke images of computer screens and confined spaces. The title track finds Haines protesting against an electronically-integrated life with the refrain "Hey! I'm not synthetica." These themes unite the album and make it more coherent and cogent than anything the band has released before.
SYNTHETICA begins with the band tinkering with their sound; "Artificial Nocturne," the album opener begins with a light, spacey aria before diving into a pulsing, electronic soundscape. The second-track and lead single "Youth Without Youth" is a mission-statement from Metric, but not necessarily representative of what the rest of the album sounds like; fans have not been very responsive to it. The stomping beat is reminiscent of b-side "Black Sheep," but it makes a great impression for how Metric's rebellious pop can be. "Lost Kitten" has the tempo of a waltz, and with Metric's trademark sound, it becomes a cute, clever track. The title track "Synthetica" is a great, aggressive rock song that sounds reminiscent of a track from OLD WORLD UNDERGROUND. The album doesn't let up from its up-tempo electric stomp until track 9: "Clone" is a mellow, earnest track that offers some of the most beautiful moments on the album. Lou Reed even finds his way on a track with the decent "The Wanderlust," and the result is better than any collaboration Reed created with Metallica :). SYNTHETICA closes with the beautiful "Nothing but Time," a great, sad reflection on the future.
This album works to further establish the band's sound, but it doesn't do much to expand that range. The band briefly flirts with experimenting in the opening and final tracks, but there isn't much to distinguish this set of songs from something that would, say, appear on FANTASIES. The same issues that FANTASIES had remain here for the most part as well -- the glossy, shiny, detached layer of cool that Metric's production provides can come across passionless or (at worst) apathetic at times. The few missteps this album makes are negligible -- SYNTHETICA is largely a consistently creative success.
Fans of MGMT, the Dandy Warhols (circa Welcome To The Monkey House), and Blur (circa Parklife) will probably find a lot to enjoy here, but 2008's FANTASIES might be a better starting point for new listeners who are unfamiliar with the sound. For preexisting fans of Metric, this album shouldn't do much to disappoint, but fans who were turned off by the previous album will probably be upset with this release as well. Standout tracks to sample: "Artificial Nocturne," "Clone," "Speed The Collapse," and "Synthetica." These songs will give listeners an idea of what to expect from SYNTHETICA. For listeners eager to sample this album before they buy, the band posted the album in its entirety on SoundCloud, but honestly, sampling on Amazon will largely give the same impression of what to expect.