Somebody recently suggested to me that lawyers are like Canadians – they are everywhere, you just don’t know it. We suppose the converse holds true as well. As the Canadian national pastime is in the second round of its playoff fury, there probably is no better time to consider a couple of recent releases from two artists with Canadian connections: Fantasies by Metric and Middle Cyclone by Neko Case.
Metric is a four-piece formed in Toronto (which if you were to visit would require a landing at YYZ for you old school Rush fans out there) and residing at times in New York, London and Montreal. Despite two previous albums, this is our first go around with Metric (that’s what happens with a nascent music blog – we don’t always have the back catalog to draw on). We’re happy to be on board though and are about to tell you why.
Let’s start at the start. The strong female vocal and driving drums make it hard to resist the comparison to Garbage, so we won’t. It’s there. Pretending that it is not only sets you up for a curious moment (that you just don’t need) when you pick up the record yourself and think, “Why didn’t that review just tell what this band sounded like instead of rambling on with useless facts and pretentious descriptions?”
There is a little more to it than that of course (otherwise this review would be over and starting it would have been pointless). We like this record and seem to like the parts that we like best, even more, the more we listen to it. The question that nags at us is whether this record will end up like Garbage’s 1998 release Version 2.0? To understand that, you need to know that every time we hear that record, or one of its radio play singles, we are pleased to hear it and never change the station or click that little forward arrow button on our floating disc 160G iPod classic. Nonetheless, we also don’t seem to pull that CD off the shelf and rarely think of it as an album that we really enjoy (and think of as good, even though we do). That begs the question of why and makes us wonder if this Canadian quartet’s solid new record will suffer the same fate.
The record (remember we are still reviewing Fantasies by Metric) opens strong with “Help, I’m Alive.” The driving refrain “beating like a hammer” transitions quite nicely into the sweeping chorus. I won’t say that Emily Haines is showing off here (though I certainly could). Instead, she’s just reminding us how good power pop can sound with a talented female manning the mic stand (*sigh* …yes, pun intended). The record doesn’t slow down with “Sick Muse” or “Satellite Mind”, that latter of which is some curious and interesting storytelling. The record slows down with “Collect Call” (a concept I think my mind was beginning to forget existed) to nice effect. The record finishes strongly with “Stadium Love”, and yes, it is exactly the kind of pulsing anthem that calls for massive public address speakers hanging from temporary outdoor scaffolds.
Before we leave these Canadians, I need to mention the hook that brought me on board with this record. With “Gimme Sympathy”, Metric has finally put on record the question that every pock-marked guitar-slinging teenager has debated in their own mind (or with their very best friend). The question, you ask? It’s this: “After all this is gone/who would you rather be/the Beatles or the Rolling Stones?” Emily and Co. give us a little misdirection by continuing with the lines “come on baby play me something like/here comes the sun”, but even a glancing familiarity with the Rolling Stones catalog (gimme & sympathy?) will tell you who they would rather be. Brilliant. Yes, we think we’ll be coming back to this record (and maybe picking up that old Shirley Manson disc a little more often too).
Neko Case is not quite Canadian, but she was only 15 when she left the States and headed to Vancouver, British Columbia. It is north of the border that she eventually met up with and became part of The New Pornographers.
Neko’s new release on ANTI- records, Middle Cyclone, was widely heralded and may even still be found in your local Starbucks (don’t know, I’m a Java Monkey guy myself). Whether that distribution deal was commercial pandering or just a great independent label jumping at the chance for some mainstream exposure, can be set aside for the moment. There are plenty of reasons to love this artist: she openly supports the good work of the folks at Pet Finder, she is rumoured to have turned down the chance to sell more tickets to her sold out April show at the Variety Playhouse by transferring the show to another location because she would not play a Ticket Nation/TicketMaster venue; and she is one of the many rock stars who shop at Atlanta’s own A Cappella Books. But right now, we’re going to take a minute to talk about the sounds that made it onto the record.
It’s well established that what Neko does on her infrequent (every three years or so) but often excellent (Fox Confessor Brings the Flood) solo projects is not a direct extension of what’s happening with her other band. Nonetheless, after the New Pornographer’s took a big step forward with 2007′s Challengers, we were pretty excited about this record.
This disc has been in the rack for a while, maybe out of a sense of obligation (or maybe dedication). There are a couple of stand out tracks like “This Tornado Loves You” and the putative single (by virtue of being a give away at that coffee shop shamefully mentioned before), “People Got A Lotta Nerve.” But there are other tracks that just don’t stick despite several rotations (“Polar Nettles” and “Fever”). Though we agree with the sentiment, her cover of the Sparks’ “Don’t Turn Your Back on Mother Earth” doesn’t add much to the original other than Neko’s pretty voice. As for the 16 minutes of outdoor sounds titled “Marais La Nuit,” well, it has already been unchecked on our iPod synch list. We’re still fans of Neko and much of what she stands for, but this record won’t be the first of hers that we reach for on that shelf.