Best tunes of 2003: #17 Metric “Combat baby”

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As I’ve mentioned previously in these pages*, it was my friend Jez that introduced me to Canadian-based indie rock group, Metric. He loaned me a copy of their debut album, “Old world underground, where are you?”, a CD he had purchased at one their shows, which I promptly ripped to mp3 and listened to quite a bit during my morning walks to work.

Metric must have come to Ottawa a number of times in the early 2000s because it seems to me that Jez saw them multiple times at very tiny clubs. After the first time, he tried to get me to come out for the next one, raving about Metric’s live energy, especially that of frontwoman Emily Haines. He would go on to describe in great detail her peculiar dance, which I’ve since witnessed personally a few times. However, I’ve often wished that I had had the funds to join him for at least one of those early gigs because I think that her almost awkward dance and nervous energy would have translated even better on those intimate stages.

“Old world underground, where are you?” was like a breath of fresh air when it was released, especially for me. The first couple of years of the 2000s were a bit of a rough go musically. I had felt in a bit of a rut after the high of Britpop and was having a hard time getting motivated about new music. Metric’s debut was probably the first album I had heard from the new breed of Canadian indie rock bands that would go on to catch the music world on fire for the next five years or so. I had previously focused most of my attentions on music from the UK, through much of the 90s anyway, so having some favourites from my home country was almost a new thing to me.

“Combat baby” was actually released as a single from the album a whole year after the album’s release and it started to catch a lot of radio play. Before that though, it was just one of many tracks on an album I knew intimately from so many repeats on my MPIO mp3 player. Like many of the tunes, it is a quick hit, short and high energy and though when I think of “Old world underground, where are you?” I remember it as mostly a synth pop album, “Combat baby” is one of the more heavy hitting tracks. It plays almost to the angular post-punk scales, or to the borderline new wavers, definitely some Blondie vibes throughout.

“Said you would never give up easy
Combat baby, come back”

It kicks in with a chugging drum machine beat before the bass line picks up the barbells and starts flexing. The guitars just drive like the wind and you can almost picture Emily Haines strutting her stuff and wagging her head back and forth to get her blond hair flailing. And all the while, she is snarling wistfully about a lost lover, an antagonist, a bustle of excitement that didn’t settle for the status quo, but that might’ve since perhaps gone soft and settled, and she is missing that edge. By the end, though, you get the feels that she is kissing off, that she will be “fighting off the lethargy” and “painting the town black” going forward. Yes indeed.

*Back when one of Metric’s later tracks, “Breathing underwater”, came in at number 15 on my Best tunes of 2012 list.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2003 list, click here.


Best tunes of 2012: #15 Metric “Breathing underwater”

<< #16    |    #14 >>

So I’ve mentioned once before in the last month or so that this blog is quickly approaching its fourth anniversary*, and looking back over my posts, I’ve noticed, much to my own surprise, that with the exception of one of my Vinyl Love posts, Canadian indie rockers Metric have yet to have been the focus of a post on any of my lists.

Metric got its start as the duo of James Shaw and Emily Haines back in 1998 in Toronto. Drummer Joules Scott-Key joined on in 2000 and a couple of years later, bassist Joshua Winstead made the group the quartet that we now know and love. As I wrote in that aforementioned Vinyl Love post, I was aware of the group from their early days because of my friend Jez. He saw them a number of times at various intimate clubs when they came to Ottawa in support of their debut album, “Old world underground, where are you?”. After his first time seeing them, Jez tried dragging me along with him and though I was sold on the music of the album he loaned me, I never seemed to have the money to spare.

By the time I finally did see Metric live, it was a number of years and three albums later and their latest, 2009’s “Fantasies”, had garnered them enough success to earn them a spot on Ottawa Bluesfest’s main stage, albeit one at a time slot in the early evening. My wife Victoria was quite a fan of that album and so I was able to convince her to join me on the lawn of the Canadian War Museum (where the festival has been annually held up to last year’s rude COVID-19 interruption) on a warm summer evening in July. Metric’s energy was fun and we both enjoyed singing along with all of our favourites, though Victoria later pointed out that Haines’s dancing was sometimes awkward and her vocals not as strong live as they were on the recordings. My opinion slightly differed than my wife’s – I thoroughly enjoyed finally catching their live experience. I’ve since seen Metric twice more, both times at different festivals, including once in support of their next album, “Synthetica”, from which comes today’s song of focus.

If “Fantasies” broke Metric more into the Canadian mainstream, “Synthetica” finished the job, songs like second single, “Breathing underwater”, gilding the festival stages for the appearances. The intro of synths is like a laser show starting, the whir of exciting machinery, then comes Shaw’s stadium ready, dancing guitar line and the driving drums, regularly punctuated with exciting fills at perfectly opportune moments and Emily Haines can hardly believe that it’s her up on the stage, singing “Is this my life?”. Indeed, the song seems to be a meditation on their good fortunes and success, the achieving of the impossible, and the worry that they are not at all up to the challenge of supporting the weight of being adored by fans around the world. Meanwhile, the video is a collage of clips of their charged live performances and the masses of audiences, including footage from a performance at Lollapalooza the previous year.

Apart from all that, “Breathing underwater” is an incredible and uplifting synth tinged rocker that will have you dancing and singing along every time.

*Now in 11 days to be exact.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2012 list, click here.


Vinyl love: Metric “Old world underground, where are you now?”

(Vinyl Love is a series of posts that quite simply lists, describes, and displays the pieces in my growing vinyl collection. You can bet that each record was given a spin during the drafting of each corresponding post.)

Artist: Metric
Album Title: Old world underground, where are you now?
Year released: 2003
Year reissued: 2015
Details: Black vinyl

The skinny: So Metric is doing a show tonight at Ottawa’s TD Place with another Canadian indie rock success story, July Talk. I’m not going (though I’m sure it’ll be a great show). I’ve seen both bands live already and in the case of Metric, a couple of times. But it got me thinking about their humble beginnings during the hey day of Canadian indie rock and I thought I’d give their debut a spin. Metric is another band that I came across as a result of discussions with my friend Jez (whom I mentioned a few days ago in connection with Neutral Milk Hotel) and it’s with whom, I had a few chances to see the group live at some tiny, intimate clubs in Ottawa before they really hit it big. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a lot of cash in those days and only finally got to see them live five or so years later at Bluesfest, circa 2009, with a larger crowd (though perhaps not as large as tonight). “Old world underground, where are you now?” is a very sturdy debut for an indie band with an ear for the past and hints for the future… And as my friend Mark might say, Emily Haines is a rock goddess.

Standout track: “Combat baby”