City Paper is not for tourists
Listening to Metric singer Emily Haines’ 2006 solo album, Knives Don’t Have Your Back, and Grow Up and Blow Away, Metric’s newly rereleased debut album, there’s little doubt where Haines’ roots lie. On both discs, her delicate, searching voice dances gracefully over dulcet keyboards, ambient guitars, and quiet rhythms, preferring eclectic indie rock over the synth-tinged, jumping rock Metric is more notorious for. Grow Up, initially recorded in 1999 by Haines and Metric guitarist James Shaw, is far more sparse than the band’s subsequent releases—2003’s ’80s-influenced Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? and 2005’s catchy Live It Out. Yet the bareness of the sound seems more of a stylistic choice than the result of being crafted by only two members of what’s now a quartet. “What you have here is a record of innocence,” Haines and Shaw write in the liner notes before launching into a poetically terse explanation of the disc’s conception. The notes suggest that the band lost its innocence when it signed to a label and started touring, depicting the album as something crafted by two young, naive musicians still unjaded by the machinations of the music industry. The defensiveness isn’t really necessary, though; the shifts in Metric’s sound over the years doesn’t reflect anything but natural evolution, and though Grow Up and Blow Away is powered by Haines’ soaring vocals, it also contains hints of the sonic landscape that Metric would eventually carve out as its own. “Hardwire,” between its hushed moments of piano-driven melody, thumps with a foot-tapping beat that propels so many of the songs on Old World, while “Raw Sugar” leaps and dips with hints of the soulful style now monopolized by Amy Winehouse. Much of the album, though, strongly evokes the solo tracks Haines wrote for Knives, drawing from a more deeply introspective place than she does in Metric; there’s an almost unnerving intimacy to Haines’ hushed delivery of many of the songs, as though she were crooning them directly into your ear. Grow Up was previously sold only at shows and all but abandoned after problems with restructuring at Metric’s first label, but it’s a beautiful record that stands on its own in terms of production and songwriting. If a new Metric album weren’t currently in the works, it could almost be mistaken for Haines’ next step rather than one of her earliest.