Based in Toronto, their roots in the achingly hip New York post-punk scene, Metric are music’s great untapped resource (from a British perspective, at least). Second album Live It Out, their first to be unleashed on these shores, will soon change that, and pour wonderment on the fact that they were signed – and dropped – by Chrysalis some six years ago.
Fronted by the inimitable Emily Haines, the band have long-standing personal ties with all the right names – Stars, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Liars, Feist and Broken Social Scene (Haines and guitarist James Shaw are fully-fledged members of the latter, her voice heard on Swimmers, Anthems For A Seventeen-Year-Old Girl and more) – and although international acclaim evaded their first album Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?, this is another crack of the same whip – and what a crack it is.
Bold, six-minute opener Empty is a potent creation; its gentle, ambient roots crashing violently into wall of noise, a cacophony forced aside by a fist-clenching solo before the re-descent begins. Haines matches the soundscape decibel for decibel, her belaboured calls to “Shake your head; it’s empty!” soon subsiding into the resigned refrain; “I’m so glad that I’m an island.”
Guitars remain employed as offensive weapons throughout Glass Ceiling and Hand$hake$: the former is an earth-heavy lead riff propped up by strong-armed drumming, contrasted by the occasional mad, saloon-style piano intrusion; the latter is a frantic punk indictment of all things capital (“Buy this car to drive to work / drive to work to pay for this car”), the chorus rendered unforgettable by Haines’ best impression of a siren (as in an alarm, not a pretty lady).
But this is not all black-and-white dynamics: Metric’s roots are in subtler shades – often wrought electronically – and Live It Out soon provides further testimony: Too Little Too Late betrays a softer (though still lyrically bleak) side, acoustic strumming even making itself heard; Poster Of A Girl purveys brilliantly the kind of mild electro-paranoia Kelly Osbourne had a stab at with One Word.
The second half of the album mirrors the first as Monster Hospital pulls off massively overdriven guitars with Nick Zinner style, the affair cemented by Haines’ ludicrously catchy choral: “I fought the war, I fought the war but the war won!”. Patriarch On A Vespa keeps the volume at 11, but the lyrics are so potently venomous that the backing pales in comparison, sounding like the musical equivalent of passive-aggression.
Proceedings draw to a well-measured close with the keyboard-led, state control-inspired The Police And The Private; the mournful, cinematic tour de force Ending Start (the best exhibit yet of Haines’ unmistakable timbre); and the inevitable title track, a vigorous post-punk workout in which an upturn is manifested through expressions of ambition.
One of the best albums in North America last year and surely one of the best of 2006 for us; Live It Out is sinister, intelligent music for sinister, intelligent people. One of modern music’s best-kept secrets is about to be blurted out – make sure you’re within earshot.