[18 December 2003]

By Devon Powers

The only thing that tops hearing “Succexy”—the shit-kicking superpop social commentary that is an instant calling card for Metric’s debut Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?—is watching the band perform it live. The cunning combination of wily synth-heavy melodies cast in herky-jerky molds, guitars stealthily playing hide and seek from tangled eruptions of bass and demanding drum kicks, unfolds onstage as the ultimate in controlled chaos—like a computer going haywire or an engine that spits out nitrous instead of exhaust. Then, there’s the vocalist. From Emily Haines’ tiny, black-clad body come elastic dance moves and a voice with the pull of a superconductor—magnetic, yet levitating. Lads all about me are boisterously commenting on Haines as a hot babe; while she is beautiful, to focus solely on her looks is to miss the nuances of her dangerous appeal. She is artfully and exquisitely tough, to a degree that could be deadly: a FemBot wielding a weapon beneath wherever the eye might wander; a calculating mind that telepathically transmits hypnotic potions; the amalgam of David Byrne, Jarvis Cocker and Jackson Pollack as a girl.

If their sound defies categories, the force of their live show defies most laws of physics, logic, and politics. Bassist Josh Winstead never stops writhing to the voluminous polygons of sound he draws with his instrument; I’d say he’s in his own universe if the signals he sent weren’t so absolutely tight with the rest of the band. James Shaw on guitar is also a live wire, but his is an abstract frenzy that blurs sight before your eyes, as if his movements were taking place beneath a strobe light. Drummer Joules Scott-Key never moves the sweaty mess of curly brown locks out of his eyes, but obviously he’s guided by a sense stronger than sight, a rhythmic biological clock with razor precision. I feel blessed to be seeing them while simultaneously robbed (and tragically un-hip) that it’s taken me so long. How could I have missed a band so enticingly good for so long?

I neglected just then to mention politics, which is just another wrinkle in their intrigue (one that, I must say, has more wrinkles than a SharPei). The infectious songs which were aired tonight wore titles like “Patriarch on a Vespa” and “Combat Baby”; they were stitched with lyrical asides on the paradox of work (“buy this car to drive to work, drive to work to pay for this car”), winking jabs at the government (“let’s drink to the military” or “our falling bombs are her shooting stars”), the potential emptiness in modern life (“nothing could beat complete denial”), the ridiculous mess of love (“falling for the creep, the body leech, here he comes!” or “are we all brides to be?”). Their visions and insights capture the confusion of our desperate, paranoid times, where peace comes from consumption and consumption is also, in the end, what is depriving us of peace. Metric speak to these dynamics like a blind prophet, leading us all to a destination unknown.

Their music is someplace between pop and prog; a message time-traveling back from the future; a happy accident of opposites: dark/bright/ironic/sincere/superfast/slow-motion/organic/artifice. To give it reference points (variously Stereolab, Echobelly, Talking Heads, Enon, Radiohead, Oingo Boingo, No Doubt) is not only cheap, but also far too confounding to be of service. What’s to like about Metric is secreted in their name—the kind of numerical exactness that others should be measured by, a system which sets its own ground rules for understanding the world. You won’t believe it until you hear/see it, and even then, you’ll need a pinch.

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