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Metric - Art of Doubt Music Album Reviews

Emily Haines leads her band into their seventh album with their own sound, immune to trends and the zeitgeist, full of big, broad rock anthems.

Metric is a juggernaut, as Canadian an institution as Tim Hortons or stories about raccoons. They’re their own distributor—all their albums since Fantasies have come out on their own label, Metric Music International—and their own sound, immune to trends or the zeitgeist. Their latest album may be called Art of Doubt, but the only thing in doubt from album to album is proportions: synthetic to acoustic, crunch to shimmer, angst to release. Opener “Dark Saturday” says it outright: “I change by staying the same.”

The point of that lyric, of course, is that staying the same can be good, and Metric, in particular, thrive on a kind of comfort-food familiarity. They’re the kind of band where a single song can be a litmus test for the whole discography and aesthetic: if you like this, you’ll probably like everything they release at some gut level. On Synthetica, it was the searing “Youth Without Youth.” Here, it’s “Love You Back,” with Emily Haines’ vocals, precise and crystalline, pressed against Jimmy Shaw’s guitar and its high-gloss tone. (Change can be found elsewhere; like the other members of Broken Social Scene, Haines experiments in her side projects, like her band the Soft Skeletons’ excellent Choir of the Mind.)

Unlike 2015’s Pagans in Vegas, where the band went fully synthpop at a time when seemingly 75% of the music world population was doing the same, Art of Doubt is decidedly rock: guitar and bass loud in the mix, first riffs in the first seconds. The “Reptilia” lope of “Risk,” the “Every Breath You Take” chug of “Holding Out”—all are familiar, all work. Some credit here goes to new producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen: Not only is he a longtime fan of the group, but his résumé is like the best possible version of Metric’s peers on both sides of the genre straddle. Vital rock acts like Wolf Alice and Paramore, towering synth acts like M83 and the late School of Seven Bells—they, and Metric, have one thing in common: an affinity for albums that sound enormous.

Metric do succumb to one trend, namely the streaming-era impulse to make albums about 18 minutes longer than they need to be. And like many long-running institutions, Metric occasionally feel called to address The Problems of Today. While their past albums have plenty of quasi-political lyrical tweaks, the world is quite a different thing in 2018 than 2015—or 2003, the year their debut Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? came out, a year to which Shaw compared the current political landscape. There are so many bands with so many grievances, so any prospective new protest song needs more protest than, to quote the implied subject of them all, “There’s something going on, and it’s bad.” But on “Die Happy” she simply asks, “So what is this society?” “Holding Out” mentions “scroll[ing] through pictures” but it is no more novel.

Even if those moments land flat, Art of Doubt serves up it’s best songs around it. “Seven Rules,” from the Choir of the Mind sessions and heard last year as “Come On, Angel,” has a gentle, Nina Persson-like lope (and what I swear is a Kate Bush reference). “Now or Never Now” is big and knows it, luxuriates in it, spooling out six minutes of anthem. And the title track is the best thing Metric’s done since Synthetica and specifically Haines’ best vocal performances: It goes from seething to shouting to a clipped, defiant staccato to sighing high register “We gotta take it upon ourselves the next time the kick drum starts,” she sings. It’s an old sentiment about music, but for a couple minutes, it’s possible to believe.

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