Indie veterans Metric tone down their stadium rock proclivities for a more sedated take on their spirited pop sound.
Metric have always been one of the loudest and proudest indie pop bands of their generation, but lacking the enthusiasm for their long-utilized arena rock and sparkling pop sensibilities, they’ve finally settled on something less gaudy for their latest record Pagans in Vegas. It’s an album built of quieter moments, its shadowy synthesizers and simmering guitars acting as a kind of artistic reset from the neon pop they explored on their last outing. Sonically, the record is not far removed from the band’s previous efforts Fantasies and Synthetica, but instead of the big dramatic emotions and setpiece melodies bursting out of their back catalog, Pagans in Vegas is much more muted and sullen. Instead of the explosive vitality of Fantasies’ “Help I’m Alive” or Synthetica’s “Youth Without Youth”, Pagans in Vegas is preceded by the relatively mournful lead single “The Shade”, the cold electronics of “Fortunes”, and the distant, thumping electro jam “Cascades”. The album represents Metric’s high-powered stadium pop for once stripped of its exuberance and transported to a dystopian future.
The whiny synths and twangy guitar line peppering the morose intro to “For Kicks”, for instance, are uncharacteristically meek for a band with a flair for emphatic dramatics. Instead, the song takes cues from the godfathers of gloomy pop the Cure and New Order before it suddenly shifts into a cheerful and buoyant chorus comfortably familiar for Metric. “Fortunes” plays with the same dynamic, launching from a numb and sinister verse into a rhapsodic rock chorus that shouldn’t fit but does. Elsewhere, on the late album couplet “Blind Valentine” and “The Governess”, the band spice up the set with two electro-acoustic ballads that recall the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' similarly atypical, toned down experiments on their second album Show Your Bones. On Pagans for Vegas, Metric just don’t sound like themselves until they do.
There are still plenty of examples of Metric’s legacy style on the album. On “The Shade”, the band’s usual pop prowess comes through strong with fat drums and propulsive keyboard lines, a set of upbeat melodies and Emily Haines’ full-hearted vocal attack. “Too Bad, So Sad” taps into some of their latent driving rock energy with a stormy combination of noisy guitar and synths, a hard-edged throwback to the pumped up passion of Fantasies. Many of the choruses on Pagans in Vegas are as enthusiastically performed and arranged as ever, brief moments of light bursting through the clouded atmosphere of the album’s prevailing dour attitude. In terms of structure, arrangement, and style, Pagans in Vegas doesn’t depart much from Metric’s long-standing conventions; only in terms of tone does the new record seem like an outlier with the band keeping their usually bold theatrics firmly in check.
Pagans in Vegas is not a stadium-sized album, but it’s also not an overly intimate or reserved work. After the red-blooded career highlight that was Fantasies, Synthetica seemed strangely subdued; the latter, in turn, has the same effect on Pagans in Vegas, making its melodies seem flatter, its grooves less powerful, and its emotions less dynamic just by existing within the context of such a vibrant discography. Yet at the same time, this feels like nitpicking; Pagans in Vegas is still undeniably Metric. It might even be quintessentially Metric. It’s just not the top tier work that’s become expected of them in the latter part of their career.