Our Man in Miami: The Night Metric Made Scope the Measure of All Art Basel Pleasure

She’s a hard-charging kitten with a whip smart kick; she’s wile-eyed and sly—the femme fatale exemplified. And many a man would give many a thing to have her break his heart. She’s got riot grrrl swagger, starlet era grace, and a face that holds truth to be self-evident—or else. She’s cool, she’s keen, and she fronts a real mean team (and yes that’s a direct reference to one of the greatest songs ever). She is Emily Haines, of the band named Metric, and together they are the pitch perfect measure of 21st century rock. So when the fearsome foursome took the stage at Scope in the middle of a mad Miami Art Week, the wow was beyond palpable.

Put on in conjunction with VH1 as part of their You Oughta Know series and a little assist from the good folks at Fiat, Metric’s Scope Miami Art Fair stand was another one of the many, many pleasures that pop up during what’s commonly called Basel. It was also one of the most sublime. And when you’ve got a week of sonic wonders—which included everyone from Scott Weiland to Daniel Johnston—that’s saying something indeed. Then again, when you’re talking about Emily Haines, saying something is pretty much a given, as is the fact that the something said will be slathered in superlatives each and every time. Miami had been abuzz about Metric’s Scope showing long before Basel, and the consensus was “can’t wait” all the way.

Yes, the band had floored The Fillmore Gleason just a few months back; and yes, everybody and their best friend’s brother seemed to be at that show. If anything though, that only increased the anticipation. See, contrary to superstition, there’s no such thing as too much of a great good thing—especially when that great good thing can rock the wind right outta you. So it was no surprise that an over-capacity crowd thronged to Scope for the force of nature that is Metric, or that the crowd wowed every moment of the storming.

Beneath the sun-drenched days and star-filled nights, Miami is at heart a city of extreme weather, and Miamians dig their storms. So too do the thousands upon thousands who descend upon our town for Hurricane Basel, and whose descending instantly makes them honorary citizens of what, for one wild week, becomes scene of the Greatest Culture Storm on Earth. As every Miamian knows, the best place to be when the storm blows is smack in the center of its eye. It was there, at Scope, at the foot of the stage in front of the Category 4 force Emily Haines, that Metric proved you don’t need no stinking barometer to know when you’re fully blown away. 

Hot New Albums from Daydream Vacation, Metric, Kimbra, and More

The North American summer solstice happens on Wednesday, ushering in the season of fun while reminding us that, sadly, it’s all downhill from here. The days will now grow incrementally shorter, minute by painful minute. But there is one way to rage against the dying of the light: by listening to the freshest new music from the hottest established and emerging artists. We listened to scores of albums, discarding the clunkers to leave a tight collection of winners for your summer 2012 partying pleasure. Mix your margarita and hit play when you’re ready.

Daydream Vacation:  Dare Seize the Fire
Defining Moment:  The skittering synths that open the album’s title track, giving way to Asya’s angelic vocals.

Daydream Vacation (pictured) is a collaboration between Seattle musicians Asya de Saavedra of dreampop duo Smoosh and Dave Einmo of hip sampledelic electro-pop project Head Like A Kite.  Their debut is a spirited alterna-dance party record, DIY in the purest sense (self-recorded, self-produced, self-released), but it sounds anything but amateurish (in a just world, the candy-sweet pure pop of "That Girl Don’t Sleep" would be a smash hit single).  The songs are all short, catchy, and dancefloor friendly (excepting the downtempo album closer "Reincarnation"), and the record as a whole is appealing enough to make a compelling argument for the participants to make this their full-time gig.
 
Pomegranates:  Heaven
Defining Moment:  When vocalist Isaac Karns channels his inner Barry Gibb and jumps to a soaring falsetto in the chorus of dance pop stunner "Passaway"
 
For their fourth full-length, this Cincinnati indie quartet downplays its artier and more experimental inclinations and turns in their most listener-friendly album to date.  "Ezekiel" strikes a delicate balance between breeziness and intensity, while uptempo numbers like "Sister" and "Lost Lives" are pure, exuberant indie power-pop.  Both "Letters" and the lovely piano ballad "Dream" are destined for inclusion on many a summer Spotify playlist, and handily show the band’s ability to pull off love songs as well as their trademark quirky pop.
 
Metric:  Synthetica
Defining Moment:  The delicious keyboards meandering under the wordless vocalizing in the post-chorus of the sublime "Breathing Under Water"
 
Veteran Toronto alt-rockers Metric follow up their 2009 breakthrough Fantasies with another collection of impeccably well-produced, synth-laden alternative rock that shows no drop-off in quality from its Juno award-winning predecessor. Highlights abound. "Breathing Under Water" and "The Wanderlust" (the latter featuring a priceless vocal cameo from Lou Reed) are as good as modern rock gets.  The vocodered chorus of the album’s first single, "Youth Without Youth," and the way Emily Haines’ treated vocals approximate the title feline in "Lost Kitten" even allow the band some flashes of humor on an album full of anthems for lonely souls and misfits.
 
Kimbra:  Vows
Defining Moment:  When Kimbra gets her Amy Winehouse on in the chorus of the irresistable ’60s pop pastiche "Cameo Lover"
 
She’s already a star in her native New Zealand, but you likely first heard the 22-year-old chanteuse Kimbra Johnson via her duet with Gotye on his international #1 smash "Somebody That I Used to Know." So maybe you did some internet research and found critical accolades and comparisons to Amy Winehouse, Katy Perry, Björk, Florence, and Nina Simone, and you thought, hey, she can’t be *that* good.  Well, yes, she is *that* good, and so is her debut album, which proves that the fetching Ms. Johnson is an inventive and versatile vocalist, as adept at tackling soulful R&B as effervescent bubblegum pop.  Vows lives up to the inbox-stuffing hype; it’s one of the best pop albums of the year so far, with no shortage of potential hit singles.  Spring for the iTunes deluxe version to get the four bonus tracks, every one a keeper.
 
Friends:  Manifest!
Defining Moment:  Leslie Mann’s impossibly infectious bassline in the anthemic minimalist funk/disco jam "I’m His Girl"
 
The closest points of reference for this Brooklyn five-piece are Bush Tetras and In Search of Manny-era Luscious Jackson, with maybe a dose of ’60s girl-group sweetness, but their remarkable debut album Manifest! is truly it’s own magnificent beast.  Frontwoman Samantha Urbani’s alluring vocals are the focal point, but it’s the bass and percussion underneath that is the band’s beating heart. "Mind Control," "Ideas on Ghosts," and the sunny, summery "Friend Crush" are among the standouts, but the whole album is teeming with hooky funk-pop with an aura of effortless underground cool:  A perfect downtown summer party soundtrack.
 
Neneh Cherry & The Thing:  The Cherry Thing
Defining Moment:  Neneh Cherry’s vocal calisthenics midway through the gloriously twisted cover of MF Doom’s "Accordian"
 
How’s this for eclectic:  Neneh "Raw Like Sushi" Cherry’s collaboration with trumpet icon Mats Gustafasson’s Norweigan/Swedish jazz trio The Thing is an album of bass-drums-trumpet arrangements by a broad spectrum of artists: The Stooges, Suicide, Ornette Coleman, MF Doom, and Martina Topley Bird. Here’s the blueprint:  The band does its stripped-down avant-jazz thing, Neneh makes every one of these songs her bitch, the band cuts loose into a barely-controlled free-jazz melee, then comes back down to earth and everyone catches their breath. Less adventurous listeners will find the skronky atonal bits pretty rough going, though still worth hearing for the pleasure of hearing Ms. Cherry’s impressive return to active duty. If this sounds like your cup of spiked java, you will find the ‘The Cherry Thing’ an invigorating pleasure.
 
22-20’s:  Got It If You Want It
Defining Moment:  The sweat-drenched guitar solo in the down-and-dirty "Pocketful of Fire"
 
Your inner classic rock fan will love this British band’s fourth-and-best album of heavy psych/blues/rock. Cribnotes for the uninitiated: They sound like the Doors, with less emphasis on keyboards, and the guitars turned up to 11 ("White Lines" in particular sounds like a lost track from the Strange Days sessions). Frontman Martin Trimble’s dead-ringer-for-Morrison vocals will catch your ear first, but the band’s twin guitar attack gives it gravity. The heavier moments recall Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, or the Ravonettes with less reverb, which is to say, awesome. In a contemporary music lanscape overrun with recycled hip-hop beats and all manner of sythesizer bleeps and bloops, the 22-20’s’ rock is the right kind of retro.

Stream the New Metric Single, Get External Stimulation

Juno Award-winning Canadian rock band Metric’s newest album, Synthetica, won’t be out until June 12, but the first single from the band’s forthcoming fifth full-length, "Youth Without Youth," is already streaming at the band’s SoundCloud page. If the track is any indication, the album will be a high-energy, gorgeously orchestrated, dark humored take on rock music and will likely soundtrack any number of this coming summer’s adventures.

Emily Haines, who handles vocals, synth and guitar for the band, wrote on the group’s website that the album “sounds like the culmination of everything we have done. We’ve always had a sound in our heads that we hoped to realize and we finally heard it coming back out of the speakers this time.”

The album, recorded at the band’s own Toronto studio and in New York does not follow 2009’s Fantasies LP in wanting to explore the world, Haines writes. “Synthetica is about staying home and wanting to crawl out of your skin from the lack of external stimulation,” she says.

Synthetica is about forcing yourself to confront what you see in the mirror when you finally stand still long enough to catch a reflection. Synthetica is about being able to identify the original in a long line of reproductions. It’s about what is real vs what is artificial.”

Going on, Haines also says the record is about insomnia, fucking up, fashion, getting wasted, dancing your ass off, poetic justice, sex and leaving town as a solution to unsolvable problems, among others.

‘Scott Pilgrim’ the Soundtrack vs. ‘Scott Pilgrim’ the Movie

I have precious little interest in seeing the forthcoming Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Like a lot of people, I’ve got Michael Cera fatigue, and while Miguel Arteta’s Youth in Revolt almost proved sufficient incentive for me to reconsider, this vehicle doesn’t come even close. In it, Cera plays the eponymous hipster who thinks himself on top of the world until a pair of doc martens with bangs (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) throws him for a loop. The catch is: in order to date her, he’s obliged to defeat her seven “evil” ex-boyfriends. It’s a kind of sci-fi, comic book romancey thing that Kevin Smith has already loudly embraced, which is a sure-fire sign that I should steer well clear. The soundtrack, however, just might be another story. Pitchfork is reporting that it will feature original and/or previously unreleased material from the likes of Beck, Metric, and Broken Social Scene.

In the film, Cera’s character is bassist for the band SEX BOB-OMB, and the filmmakers tapped Beck to write the fictional rockers’ set-list. There are four new tracks included on the album (out August 10th), with Beck providing the instrumentation and the pic’s actors doing their own vocals. Additionally, regular Beck collaborator-cum-producer-cum-all-around-best-buddy Nigel Godrich has produced both the soundtrack album and the movie’s score, which is slated for a tbd digital release. The complete track listing of the former is as follows:

01 SEX BOB-OMB (Beck): “We Are SEX BOB-OMB” 02 Plumtree: “Scott Pilgrim” 03 Frank Black: “I Heard Ramona Sing” 04 Beachwood Sparks: “By Your Side” 05 Black Lips: “O Katrina!” 06 Crash and the Boys (Broken Social Scene): “I’m So Sad, So Very, Very Sad” 07 Crash and the Boys (Broken Social Scene): “We Hate You Please Die” 08 SEX BOB-OMB (Beck): “Garbage Truck” 09 T. Rex: “Teenage Dream” 10 The Bluetones: “Sleazy Bed Track” 11 Blood Red Shoes: “It’s Getting Boring by the Sea” 12 Metric: “Black Sheep” 13 SEX BOB-OMB (Beck): “Threshold” 14 Broken Social Scene: “Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl” 15 The Rolling Stones: “Under My Thumb” 16 Beck: “Ramona (Acoustic)” 17 Beck: “Ramona” 18 SEX BOB-OMB (Beck): “Summertime” 19 Brian LeBarton: “Threshold 8 Bit”

Metric’s Emily Haines on Their Personal New Album

I have this weird thing where I like to claim some personal ownership in Emily Haines. Maybe it’s because we both grew up in Toronto. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen her play a bunch of times. Maybe it’s because she made me smell her armpit once. Or maybe it’s because I have deeply strange personal issues. Whatever it be, the lead singer of new-wave funsters Metric is by far one of Canada’s hottest exports (that face! that voice! those legs!), and after a four-year stay in between-album purgatory, she and her bandmates have returned and are rejuvenated, with a catchy, fizzy new record. Maybe it’s because she makes great music.

Fantasies follows the Metric paradox of moody lyrics set to groovy riffs. But for a band known for lamenting the woes of society, this album feels less state-of-the-union, and more state-of-themselves. Haines recently underwent a self-imposed, self-reflective exile in Buenos Aires (beautifully evoked in this documentary) where she wrote songs for the album, far away from the white noise of the music industry hype machine. But speaking to Haines recently, she was excited about the new record, ready to take her show on the road and defiant about online vitriol, and the inevitable album leak. Not to mention, a little potty-mouthed.

You did a video for “Gimme Sympathy” before “Help I’m Alive,” which was the first single off the album. Why’s that? Well, actually “Help I’m Alive” is like the song that ran out the back door of the studio and snuck away with the other 9 songs looking guilty and not telling us where the song went. In December, we did this tour across Canada, that we had planned for a while, that was sort of in conjunction with a couple of charities that help out kids. We decided to call it the “Help, I’m Alive Tour”, because that made sense, kind of spurring the idea of compassion. And at the last minute said, “Well, let’s put out a limited-edition vinyl,” of the tour, for the song “Help I’m Alive”, and as soon as we did that, it leaked. We found that it leaked by getting phone calls from fuckin’ Australia. Basically, the song went to #1 in Canada, and performed better than any other Metric song ever in the world

So when you recorded that song, you weren’t like, “This is the first single?” No, and it’s kind of that thing that happens on albums where—you know there’s always everyone’s favorite song? And then there’s some people who don’t know the music business who are like, “That should be the single!” And everyone who knows the business is like, “Oh, no way, that can’t be the single.” That was totally that song. It proved what we always hoped to be true, which is those rules are not written in stone, and people are open-minded about music, and it’s not all like, corrupt and tied up. Your little song can make it if people like it, you know?

In the documentary you said that you were unhappy and you weren’t sure where your life was headed. I’m sure a lot of people must have heard that and been like, “What is she talking about? She’s a rock star, how could you be unhappy? There’s no direction? What is she talking about?” What would you say to people who would react like that? I’d say, has nobody read Great Jones Street, by Don DeLillo? [Laughs] That’s what I’d say. You should read it.

What’s it about? It’s about this rock star who just disappears from the whole reality that he’s in because he just can’t handle it any more. And for me, it wasn’t like a particularly dramatic thing. I think I was just being honest, that the idea of what a life is supposed to be like for a successful musician is such a trap, and it’s a trick. We’re really determined as people to not have our lives be something that we’ve lost control of, and that’s the trade off, you know? Like, that’s the cost of success—that you never have time for anyone but yourself, you’re constantly exhausted, you don’t have a home, your relationships are always in shambles. Like, no fuckin’ way. I’m not doing that. So when we came off of the last run, it was like, we’d been touring for 3 years before Live It Out—you know, 300 shows a year, literally—and then 3 years after Live It Out, and then I put out a solo record, and then I did that for a year, and the day I get home and drop my bag it’s like, ‘Okay, time to write a new record.’

And who determines that? Why is it time to put out a new record? Well, that’s the record label we were with at the time. And that’s the logical thing, it’s what you’re supposed to do.

But, isn’t an album supposed to be something that comes organically? That’s what I’m saying! We did write a lot of music while on a successful, sold-out tour, road-testing those songs, but at the end of it we were all like, ‘I don’t want to make that record.’ That’s a record about a band trying to make a record, songs about trying to write a song, and being tired, and sick of airports. I don’t want to inhabit that, and I have too much respect for our fans to subject them to that. So, we discussed it as a band, and it wasn’t like me disappearing from them. It was just like, we got to drop this plot for a second and get back into the bigger picture of what it is to be alive, and remember that the world is a blast, and incredible. And all these little things that are accumulating and seeming so important—it’s just such a narrow existence. I thought that I really had tunnel vision. I think that some people enjoy that, like being the center of their whole life, but I don’t do well in that setting.

Why did you choose Buenos Aires as the place to kind of escape to? Because nobody knew us. I didn’t know a single person. I didn’t know anything about it except things that intrigued me historically, and architecturally. But more importantly, I was just looking for a room that had a piano, and it was literally like a search engine thing, like, ‘PIANO, ROOM, CITY, RENT’.

Did you write all the songs off the album in Buenos Aires? A few of them. We did others in this barn house studio that we found in northern Seattle after coming off the UK tour, which was a really good time, just leaving civilization. We just pulled a little Fleetwood Mac. That was a bit debaucherous, but that’s okay. I’m sitting with the band right now, and everybody just sort of laughed and cringed at the same time when I mentioned that.

In the doc you also mentioned that you wanted to escape the pressure of sound like bands that were considered cool at the time. When I referenced that, it was just like, this feeling. It’s like, okay, so in the whole world there are just these 4 bands? It can’t be. I think it was just feeling so sick of hearing hype about things. It was the difference of being moved by music, and being impressed by music. Do you know what I mean? It’s like, I want to be moved. I don’t want to be like, “That’s a hot riff.” I don’t really give a fuck about that.

Even though you guys are known for hot riffs. We are kind of big on the hit riffs, but it’s got to have some emotion behind it.

Do you expose yourself to online hype and negativity? The internet has become this place where you can just slander people anonymously and get away with it. I know, I totally take it with a grain of salt. I’m a big believer in democracy, and if somebody wants to hang out online, and I can’t believe—on both extremes—the time people have to praise and defend us to the ends of the earth, and I also can’t believe the people who have the time to say that we’re a Blondie rip-off band, or something. It’s just like, whatever you want to do, dude. That’s cool. I’ve never really gone on and commented on anything in my life, so I can’t really relate, but I can’t imagine that there’s any point in stifling that, you know? It’s pretty hilarious, and I don’t really have anything to hide, so I don’t feel very offended.

A lot of people tend to pay attention to the negative over the positive. Right? I try to ignore it all so that it won’t really affect me one way or the other.

Were you worried about the album leaking? We kept the record under wraps for 6 months, and when it was in our hands, the record was air-tight. We knew that it would happen at some point, but we were really disappointed that it happened through one of our label partners, but that’s how it happens 99% of the time. So then, our way to deal with it was to stream the whole album on MySpace, which we did very quickly. We put it up as sort of a reaction, because as a music fan you want to hear it, we understand that, but we were sort of heartbroken at the thought of people hearing a second-rate, audio-quality version. I don’t care that you all downloaded my record for free, I don’t care because I don’t make any money from albums. But not all of us wear silver spoons. For a band like Metric, we self-finance this, we put all of our own love and energy into it, and I totally understand that people are going to want to hear it, but it comes down to an ethical decision for each individual. If you feel good about it, then I can’t argue with that, but I think our album is good enough to pay, what is it, 8 bucks? I really do. I think it’s worth it. But I’m never going to say that we should be suing somebody for getting it for free.

April Music Reviews: Bat For Lashes, Metric, MSTRKRFT

Bat For Lashes, Two Suns (Astralwerks) On the heels of her engrossing 2006 debut Fur and Gold, Natasha Khan (best known by her stage pseudonym Bat For Lashes) returns with the rhythmically complex Two Suns, which signals her daring sonic transition from goth-pop indie darling to high-concept sorceress. As she tells it, the album channels two distinct personae: there’s Natasha and the less-earthy Pearl. Unfortunately, neither of these narrative voices is particularly distinct. With the exception of “Pearl’s Dream,” they’re almost indistinguishable. Still, Two Suns brims with warm, burbling electronics (“Daniel”), delicious psychedelic piano pounding (“Siren Song”) and enough indelible melodies to forgive all that torpid mysticism. —Brian Orloff

Metric, Fantasies (Metric Music) Singer-songwriter Emily Haines isn’t joking when, on “Help, I’m Alive,” she moans, oh so feather-lightly, “If I stumble, they’re gonna eat me alive.” After the release of Live it Out, the band’s 2005 foray into harder rock—which proved more critically divisive than a Björk movie—Metric needed a strong comeback. And on their fourth studio album, Fantasies, Haines and company deliver. It’s a heady mix of early ’90s petulance (“Stadium Love”) and that inimitable female voice, a fractured, soaring shard of emotion turned sonic (“Collect Call”). Appropriately, the whole thing sounds like an army of goose bumps cascading into battle. —Nick Haramis

Thunderheist, Thunderheist (Big Dada) When M.I.A. and her rapper friends boasted that no one on the corner had swagger like them, they obviously hadn’t yet heard of Toronto-based digital duo Thunderheist. On their eponymous debut album, MC Isis cuts across DJ Grahm Zilla’s slinky, synth-laced beats like a jungle cat on the prowl, ready to pounce. Her rhymes knock listeners across the cheek when Isis raps, “You float like a butterfly and smack like Ali.” The Ancient Egyptian goddess tends to repeat nonsensical lyrics—“shimmy shimmy cocoa puffs”—ad nauseam for the sake of continuity, but it’s all with the intention of making crowds bounce. Rave-rap, booty-house, neo-electro—call it what you want, but this is ISCM at its best: Intelligent Strip Club Music. —Ben Barna

The Juan MacLean, The Future Will Come (DFA) The future is here, and it sounds like yesterday—circa 1983, filtered through the prism of dance-music maverick John MacLean, otherwise known as The Juan MacLean. On his second album of skewed synth-retro-nica, MacLean brings frequent collaborator (and sometime LCD Soundsystem member) Nancy Whang to the forefront. The result suggests Sonny and Cher taken to a robotic extreme, or “Don’t You Want Me”–era Human League given a punk-funk, neo-Moroder mutation. Their computer love proves hypnotic, funny and infectious. —Matt Diehl

The Whip, X Marks Destination (Razor & Tie) The debut long player from this Manchester foursome is a solid effort, but don’t expect it to change the sound of music. Tracks veer dangerously close to commercial-music licensing territory with their repetitive, guitar-laced synths and one–two drum kicks—the stuff ad-exec dreams are made of. Lead singer Bruce Carter’s raspy, navel-gazing lyrics line blip-loaded, polished, Velcro®-catchy dance-rock. “Can you hear me underground?” Carter asks on the epic album closer “Dubsex.” Probably not, kids, but who needs the underground when you’ve got money in the bank? —Foster Kamer

MSTRKRFT, Fist of God (Dim Mak/Downtown Records) On their follow-up to 2006’s The Looks, Jesse Keeler (onetime bassist for Death From Above 1979) and AI-P (Alex Puodziukas) dust off the vocoder and synth factory for another go at electronic experimentation. This time, MSTRKRFT put their best fist forward, collaborating with hip-hop heavyweights like E40 and Ghostface Killah, in an admirable—and successful—attempt to get crowds shaking. Standout tracks from the Toronto–based duo are, surprisingly, “It Ain’t Love” featuring Lil’ Mo and “Heartbreaker” with John Legend. Ultimately, though, these songs sound more like R&B remixes than proper disco house-bangers with strong vocal backing. —Eiseley Tauginas

Neko Case, Middle Cyclone (Anti-) On her eighth solo album, Neko Case holes up in a 200-year-old farmhouse in rural Vermont, where a cast of friends—including the New Pornographers, Calexico and M. Ward—help to weave her familiar tapestry of earnest Americana. As with 2006’s Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, the scarlet lady of letters proves to be a master raconteur, her narrative wavering between whimsy on “This Tornado Loves You” and austerity, as seen on the expansive track “Red Tide.” Sweeping piano orchestras only add to the melodic breeze found on “Polar Nettles” and “Don’t Forget Me,” which dissolves into an ambient, frog-chorus ending courtesy of Case’s backyard pond—proof that there really is no place like home. —Cayte Grieve