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Old World Underground

Wednesday, Jan 28 2004
We first encountered Metric singer Emily Haines as the meek but cute voice on Broken Social Scene's "Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl." "Park that car, drop that phone/ Sleep on the floor, dream about me," she sings over and over again while the wacky Canadian indie kids manipulate their instruments and tweak guitar pedals to suggest the madness of female teenage obsession. On Metric's debut full-length, Old World Underground, however, the protagonists that inhabit Haines' songs have grown up. They're now interested in nightclubs, prostitution, punk rock, disco, and just plain kicking ass.

Old World is a commanding record from start to finish, largely because of Haines' delivery. On songs like "Combat Baby," a Bond-ish bottom shaker with playful guitars and drums that sound like hand claps, she is a bold, taunting seductress. In other places, as on "Calculation Theme," accompanying a ghostly, arpeggiated synthesizer and the occasional Rhodes piano, she mourns her failed attempts at happiness with soft-uttered breaths. Whatever tone Haines uses, her performance is emotional and daring.

It would be wrong to attribute Old World's beauty entirely to Haines, though, because the complexity of the arrangements -- solid pop-rock with elaborate, warm textures -- points to a capable backing band. Guitarist James Shaw (another BSS graduate), bassist Josh Winstead, and drummer Joules Scott-Key create intricate rhythms that remain catchy, pushing pop as far as it can go before it becomes dissonant. What completes the formula is Haines' piano and synth lines, which flirt with Shaw's guitar parts, offering rubbery or glassy shades of color that nudge the songs beyond your traditional rock equation. The easy comparison that most critics make, because of the melodic content and phrasing, is to late-'90s British pop-punkers Elastica, but one can trace this line further back to Wire, which Elastica was ripping off in the first place. What Metric's music lacks in originality, though, it more than makes up for with energetic pop hooks. And if good songs weren't enough, did we mention how sexy Haines is, often donning a miniskirt on stage no less? Indie rock needs more female-fronted outfits like this.

About The Author

Abigail Clouseau


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