Artificial Nocturne

I don’t remember how I came to know the music of the Canadian band Metric. It might have been through CBC Radio 3, the public broadcaster’s Internet station. At any rate, I know that when I discovered them, I was hooked.

Founded in 1998 in Toronto, Ontario, by Emily Haines and James Shaw–who are also the group’s primary songwriters–the foursome is a vibrant part of my country’s contribution to the alternative rock music scene.

Metric’s fifth studio album, Synthetica (2012), cemented my relationship with the band’s music. It’s a terrific album that even includes a collaboration with the legendary American singer, songwriter and poet Lou Reed (1942-2013), “Wanderlust,” released on the album which came out not long before his death.

The album also contains one of the most brilliant song transitions I’ve ever heard, between “Youth Without Youth” and “Speed the Collapse.” In the digital age, such edits lose some of their effects as tracks end and are cut off from the next song instead of flowing together as they would on a long-playing vinyl record. (Actually, if listening on YouTube, the transitions are relatively smooth, unless interrupted by ads, of course…)

One of the digital re-issues of Synthetica closes with a series of numbered “reflections,” which were later compiled as a separate album. The pieces are synthesizer-driven variations on themes in the original album. And a deluxe version of Synthetica also includes some acoustic songs like “Gimme Sympathy” (please see my post on the original, plugged-in version of the track). The album, with its permutations, was heavily promoted, especially online, in a way I was unfamiliar with at the time. It was a pretty big deal.

In November 2012, my sweety and I, with family and a friend, attended the Winnipeg stop on a tour Metric gave to support the album. It was just weeks before our lives would change forever due to the death of the daughter of dear friends of ours. And this was not long before an untimely and tragic death in our own family so, for me, the album carries those accompaniments.

Memory and emotional associations aside, Synthetica is a fantastic album that really deserves to be heard as a whole in one sitting. There are many great songs on the collection, and the driving beat of “Breathing Underwater” is a longtime favourite of Sweety’s and mine. (I will have to post that song sometime, as the official video is amazing.)

Written by Haines and Shaw, “Artificial Nocturne” is the powerful opening track on the album. It begins slowly with a heavy synthesizer backing and then transitions into a second segment kicking up the beat and energy. The song sets the stage for a kick-ass collection of musical stylings. It was also the perfect opening for the concert: a slow burn, then an explosive start to an incredibly high-energy performance that drew me in from the start and left me wanting more after the encore finally faded from my ringing ears.

I still enjoy listening to this album nine years after its release and after sitting through it countless times. Synthetica goes between dark and light as if pushing ahead through the complexity of life’s ups and downs. It was hard to choose just one song to feature in a time when the unease of the pandemic fluctuates while, at the same time in our corner, new hope gets ready to come into the world.

Now you know a little about why this is My Song of the Day for Today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.

Here’s the official lyric video from Metric’s YouTube channel:

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