tremble clef

Monday, August 14, 2006

Metric, "On The Sly" (2001)

The way I feel about Metric is close to the way I feel about Stars. This is not because I can't be bothered to distinguish between them, although, given the incestuous ties -- being part of the same (broken social) Canadian scene, and Metric's Emily Haines even singing on one of Stars' best songs ("Going, Going, Gone") -- they don't always make it easy to do so. It's just that my interest in both bands has waned the longer they've been around, because each has steadily moved from making more electronic pop-rock tracks to being more straightforwardly rock acts now. And the latter acts are a dime a dozen.

In the case of Metric, however, this trajectory is a mostly hidden one. Unlike Stars, whose initial record, the bedroom-electronica set Nightsongs, was on display for the world to hear, Metric's early output was never official. As far as the public was concerned, Metric's debut was hence the already quite rock-oriented Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? Which I quite enjoyed -- it's not like I hate rock on principle, you know -- since it had New Wavy tracks like "Hustle Rose." (I once joked, back when "Somebody Told Me" was everywhere, that it was a matter of time before a second-generation Killeresque band came along, but fronted by a woman, and they would claim The Motels as an influence. And then I realized we already had that band, and it was Metric.) "Calculation Theme," in particular, never fails to tingle my spine when the Casiotone-sque backing is joined by other synths, the key changes, and Emily sings, "Tonight, your ghost will ask my ghost: where is the love?" Their second record, Live It Out, which I found almost unlistenable (only "Too Little Too Late" is passable), was therefore, from that perspective, just the next logical step forward: even more rock, but sadly just that much less melody.

But before those official albums, Metric recorded: (1) an EP titled Mainstream in 1998, (2) another EP called Static Anonymity three years later, and (3) an entire album Grow Up And Blow Away, which was set for release until Restless Records folded, and the band apparently lost interest in getting their new label to pick up the album, claiming that they had moved beyond those early songs.

Those early songs are, at worst, a little meandering, but they are almost always texturally interesting. The Mainstream EP, for example, was filled with mostly triphop numbers, and none was spookier than the sparsely forlorn opening track "Butcher." "You're so handsome in this light," Emily proclaims, before continuing, "if only you'd reject me tonight." On Static Anonymity, the songs had more conventional pop structures, but the EP ended with a short dreamy number, backed by a piano and some clipped strumming guitars, called "London Halflife" that somehow sounded like it was recorded in a room that's not the one you're in now. Most of all, one of those early songs remain my favorite Metric recording: "On The Sly," from the abandoned Grow Up And Blow Away album. The song begins with a military marching band drumbeat, before bursting into a glorious pop song that's about love, yes, but only as cloaked in a typically acidic shell: "I want them to hate me, so you can love me on the sly." The early word on the Emily Haines solo album (her second, if you count the self-released decade-old Cut In Half And Also Double) is that it will be filled with "piano-driven songs backed with soft strings and horns," and the leaked tracks do sound closer to the Mainstream EP that anything Metric has done since then. In other words: a bit indulgent, uncommercial, but strangely worth spending time with. Just when I think I'm out, they pull me back in again.


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