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Metric at The Current

12 Jun

“So Emily Haines,” Lou Reed began his question, “who would you rather be, The Beatles or The Rolling Stones?” As she told it, Haines, frontwoman of the band Metric, managed to stifle her giddiness that a hero of hers was quoting “Gimme Sympathy” at her long enough to coyly tell him that she we would really rather be The Velvet Underground. “And there’s some truth to that,” she playfully underscored to the crowd gathered in The Current’s UBS Forum last Monday.

Haines and her counterpart Jimmy Shaw were making a one-off stop at the radio station to record an in-studio session in support of their latest effort Synthetica, out today. Looking perfectly the rock star part, both in skinny dark denim and shades, he with a stingy brim fedora and she with burgundy velvet boots that sent host Mary Lucia into a covetous tizzy, Haines and Shaw were amicable and open throughout their 6 song set which included the hits “Gimme Sympathy” and “Help, I’m Alive” from their last effort, Fantasies, as well as Synthetica‘s new songs; the title track, “Breathing Underwater” and “Youth Without Youth”.

Stripped of the electronic bombast that makes their tunes so infectious on record, the spare renditions, with Shaw on guitar and Haines singing and playing the piano on “Help, I’m Alive”, were delicate and haunting in the studio, allowing the songcraft to shine through. Haines has voice that can crescendo from tender whispering to defiant strength, and the spareness of the arrangements served her voice and also to highlight some of the deeper searching and themes in the lyrics. Synthetica, while not a concept album, came together thematically around a notion Haines had around people trying to negotiate the real in a world full of artifice, at one point referring to a “nightmarish person” who was “half human, half robot” and jokingly accused of being found most often in Los Angeles (Haines’ “City of Angels” emblazoned t-shirt notwithstanding). The darkness and searching underlying the lyrical and melodic beauty should come as no surprise to fans of the band’s past work, and bodes well for their upcoming soundtrack collaboration with the composer Howard Shore for David Cronenberg’s adaptation of the Dom DeLillo novel Cosmopolis.

Also in the set was a cover of the tune, “What a Pretty Color”, by North Carolina folk rocker Benji Hughes. Haines told the story of how she came by the song, depressed, wandering around the Disney shopping mall that mid-town Manhattan has become, after days of being locked indoors working Synthetica and in need of a substantive human experience. Dipping into bar that was about to close, she asked if she could stick around for a drink and was told that she was welcome, but that they were about to have a friend of theirs play some tunes, which was alright by her. Hughes took the stage and blew her away, so much so that she asked him to play “What a Pretty Color” twice over. The tale of rejuvenation has the same quasi-mythical quality of Bob Dylan’s meetings in Louisiana with bar-men and shop owners from Chronicles, Volume One, and probably rightfully so. For Haines, that seemed to be the point of Synthetica – in a world where there is so much not to be trusted, the color and sound of people making it through is still here for us, From the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, to Dylan and Lou Reed, to Metric and you and me.

Read David Safar’s take on Synthetica for The Current’s CD of the Week blog, and tune in at 5pm to catch the broadcast.

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