America again considers Metric and the Canadian system of indie rock 

The Math Behind Metric

The Math Behind Metric

Befitting their name, the Canadian band Metric — while embraced as a dance-rock standard bearer in some parts of the world — has yet to completely win over the stubborn American market. The indie quartet's last LP, 2009's dark and new wavy Fantasies, marked their first appearance on the U.S. charts, peaking at a so-so No. 76. Meanwhile, just over the border, Fantasies was a platinum smash — the third consecutive Metric album to go gold or better in the North Country.

Even if the evidence would seem to speak to the contrary, there is no cultural divide keeping Metric's slick, sharp and easily digestible brand of Canuck-rock out of America's Alanis-loving wheelhouse. In fact, a half-dozen of the band's infectious jams have already infiltrated the soundtracks to many of our most cherished American institutions — be it the tearful end to a Grey's Anatomy episode or the prologue to Turtle's latest unlikely conquest on Entourage. For a group of thirtysomethings, they've even managed to quietly corner the youth market as well, with prominent tracks on both the Twilight: Eclipse and Scott Pilgrim soundtracks this summer.

If there's a stumbling block in Metric's quest for stateside name recognition, it may come down to a simple matter of mathematics. In the hierarchy of Canada's critically acclaimed and commercially viable rock bands, Metric is easily lost in the shuffle — sharing influences, textures, attitudes, and yes, band members, with seemingly every other major outfit in the neighboring provinces. The saving grace — and quite possibly the quintessential Canadian indie-rock figure of the moment — is Metric's founder and frontwoman Emily Haines.

Back in the '90s, Haines was among Toronto's burgeoning new crop of high-minded struggling artists, palling around with the retro-tuned hipsters who would eventually form bands like the Dears, Stars, and of course, the all-encompassing beast of Canadian indie-rock, Broken Social Scene. In BSS, Haines played the thin blonde duchess — a little more intense than the similarly baby-voiced Amy Millan and a good deal tougher than the wispy Leslie Feist. Before the first Metric album had seen the light of day, Haines had already displayed her balancing act of vulnerability and guile on the unforgettable "Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl," on Broken Social Scene's 2002 effort You Forgot It in People.

A year later, Haines (as lead vocalist and synth player) finally introduced the world to the band she'd been building for several years with guitarist James Shaw, bassist Josh Winstead, and drummer Joules Scott-Key. Metric's Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? was a game changer of sorts — an album indebted to the '80s electro-pop that was also informing Millan's new band Stars, but with an unbridled rock energy more in line with the Brooklyn sound that Haines and Shaw had absorbed while living in New York in the late '90s (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, in particular).

By 2004, Haines & Co. seemed primed for their big moment as Canada's new rock ambassadors. But they were rudely run over by an even more melodramatic bunch from Montreal (led by a transplanted Texan, no less) called Arcade Fire. Around the same time, a pair of Calgary-born twin sisters named Tegan and Sara came charging across the border with their own synth-heavy pop sound, scoring an American hit with "Walking With a Ghost." Right behind them were Haines' old pals Stars (with their breakthrough album Set Yourself on Fire) and Feist with her Juno prize-winning Let It Die LP. Metric's "scene" had suddenly spread beyond even their sizable Broken Social one, and by the time they released 2005's Live It Out, their superstardom at home was undeniable, if only a bit tempered by another hazy reception in the U.S.A. Anyone who heard "Monster Hospital" or "Empty" had to like what they heard. It was just a matter of figuring out which of those cool new Canadian bands they were listening to.

After Live It Out, Metric went on an extended hiatus. Haines released two gut-wrenching but beautiful solo albums, Shaw started a production studio and the rhythm section put together a side band of their own, Bang Lime. By the time the foursome reconvened to make Fantasies, the creative itch was cresting — and the marketing team was on high alert. A year later, they're still riding out the wave, supporting Fantasies for another American go-round as the band's TV and movie appearances continue to fan the flames of interest. Metric's Nashville gig is surrounded by a handful of opening slots for Brit-rock giants Muse, and by the winter, the plan is to head back to the studio to get to work on album number five.

"The function of music in my life is to help me understand what the hell is happening," Haines has said. As to whether Americans will soon understand the mightiness of Metric, a few million Twilight fans is as good a place to start as any.

Email music@nashvillescene.com.

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