By Michael Atkinson
By Luke Winkie
By Steve Weinstein
By Brian McManus
By Brian McManus
By Dan McQuade
By Dan McQuade
By Brian McManus
Metric have seen the future. and it sings "Alison."
"I always get mistaken for Elvis Costello, and we always tease our drummer, Joules, for looking like Stewart Copeland," says guitarist Jimmy Shaw, running his hands through his Imperial Bedroom–era hair. "Last summer, we had the most unbelievable experience with that. We went up to Harlem to see the Police and Costello tape a show, and at one point it was Elvis Costello and Stewart Copeland sitting together onstage—"
"I kept looking up at them," interrupts singer Emily Haines excitedly, casually leaning over Shaw's arms, "and then back at Jimmy and Joules. It was this totally fucked-up time warp, like an aging process happening from audience to stage. Oh, my God! Past, future. Insane. Unsane."
Not a bad fate, if you can get it. Turns out, the future is a pretty intoxicating topic for the quartet, one that fueled the creation of their third album, Fantasies (out April 14). The group, who met 11 years ago while living in Williamsburg, recorded most of it in their home base, Toronto, on the heels of Haines's solo album, Knives Don't Have Your Back (2006), and her contemplative personal travels to Argentina. The record is a ruminative creation, expansive in production yet intentionally simpler in structure than their past new wave/rock efforts. Nowhere in their perky dance debut Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? (2003) or more dissonant Live It Out (2005) was there a cut as stirring as the new "Front Row" or one with the adrenaline immediacy of current single "Help I'm Alive." On Fantasies, each song seems instinctual and a bit surreal.
Behind the dreamy, spacious flow, however, is sharp anticipation; unlike past albums, the band wrote this one without yet feeling the emotions behind it. Ironically, this was their most concerted attempt at honesty—or, in the sweeping philosophical tangentials they're so fond of, this was their first stab at self-actualization. In fact, they are endearingly excitable with this type of songwriters-circle discourse and have admitted to it since their inception (Shaw and Haines, along with bassist Josh Winstead and Copeland-ite Joules Scott-Key, are all original members). When I meet them in a Wall Street office one rainy afternoon, they are spilling over with it.
"The lyrics I'd written, up 'til this record, were about taking note, taking stock of the things that were wrong and disappointments," explains Haines, a ringer for Uma Thurman (this is one genetically blessed band). "But whenever you make a record, you're pretty much writing a script for yourself for the next few years. Live It Out, for example, was a record based on touring three years before and was the record that facilitated us touring two years after. In retrospect, I realized we wrote our own path with the music that we made. I saw that if I wrote a record about having a broken heart, I'd have to inhabit a broken heart onstage for the next two years. It was a revelation: Whatever we created was what we'd be living in. Fantasies is an idealistic record because we wanted to live in that."
That, or Jurassic Park.
"We wanted to open our imagination up, and you want the biggest space to do that," continues Shaw. "A main image we had while making the record was of a pterodactyl coming out of its shell, sitting on the edge of the Grand Canyon, ready to take its first flight. Our producer [John O'Mahony] would flap around pretending to be the pterodactyl." (There's the Williamsburg).
Metric are already proving successful at portending their brighter future. "Help I'm Alive," the first song Haines wrote in Argentina, reached No. 1 on CBS Radio and (at press time) was on its seventh week on the Canadian Hot 100 charts. The band also has an extensive North American tour slated for June. And, as Haines admits, they feel grounded in a way she didn't know before.
"It's really amazing to sing these songs," she says. "There is no divide between the words and what we feel now."
Metric, Fantasies, out April 14, ilovemetric.com
Spring Music Picks
After she conquered Mick Jagger, dance-punk was nothing. The brittle singer-songwriter, whose relationship with Lips inspired many of the Stones' best singles (including "Wild Horses"), charted a few times in the '60s with "Sister Morphine" and "This Little Bird," but was primarily known as a drug-addled ingenue. It was her 1979 comeback, Broken English, that deftly melded rock with dance, eloquence with minimalism, and revealed how her detached tweet had weathered into an affecting, husky snarl. Thirty years and half as many albums later, a new crop of rock 'n' rollers also can't drag themselves away from this brutal, beautiful soul. City Winery, citywinery.com
WAVVES & Vampire Hands
Not every band from California feels the surf in their veins and that El-Lay beat in their wrists, but somehow, they all have that sun-streaked, ineffable glint that brands them as Golden State. Nathan Williams, a/k/a WAVVES, doesn't hide his San Diego bearings; his boisterous lo-fi rock, all feedback and fray, suggests No Age with cawing singsong or Jan and Dean with exponentially more reverb. Minnesota-bred Vampire Hands are far less wound up, their psychedelic Americana steeped mostly in laissez-faire midtempo. Cake Shop, cake-shop.com
It is the distant future. Flight of the Conchords, "New Zealand's fourth-most popular folk parody duo" (as they tell it), are onstage at Radio City Music Hall, treading the hallowed boards of Ella Fitzgerald and the Count Basie Orchestra. The scruffy pair (Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement) are either bleating in robospeak about poking humans or cradling guitars on their laps and booming like Barry White about their hot "business socks." Off in the corner, opening act Kristen Schaal is nonchalantly stripping down to a superhero costume, as she is wont to do in her Daily Show segments. This is an entirely possible outcome for the evening, people. Anything is possible. Radio City Music Hall, radiocity.com
Two decades strong, and the Roots are still one of the best live hip-hop acts in the world. Fitting, as they crafted the very idea: By using live instrumentation on their albums, they bypassed the difficulties of re-creating samples and pre-recordings onstage. This innovative energy also translated to wax, inconsistently but sometimes gloriously (spin 1999's Things Fall Apart). Currently, these rap leviathans sock it every night as The Late Night With Jimmy Fallon house band, a truly dubious honor. Catch them live, for the sanity of all involved, on a stage of considerably bigger ideas. Madison Square Garden, thegarden.com
"Top brass" was never so apt: A&M Records head Herb Alpert cofounded the label with Jerry Moss in his garage in 1962, then, over the next two decades, shot it to worldwide prominence with a roster that included Joe Cocker, Cat Stevens, and the Carpenters. But the flagship act was always his own: The trumpeter's Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass was the most successful instrumental jazz-pop outfit of the era, known for their crisp, playful No. 1 hits "A Taste of Honey" and "Spanish Flea." Since then, he's fashioned more successes as a recording artist, producer, and philanthropist—and made a few zillion pennies when he sold A&M to Universal—but he's happily kept a zeal for the stage. He remains an extraordinary musician with a gold-mine ear to the ground. Rose Theater at Lincoln Center, jalc.org
An uncommon evolution: Angry young earthniks retreat to the North Carolina woods, record distressed folk harmonies about modernity and sin, and dispatch accordion liberally. They name themselves after small avians that attract mates by building nests of colorful debris, and their debut album, Hymns for a Dark Horse, entices the much shinier prize of an East Coast tour with the Mountain Goats. Frightened by the neon lights and indoor plumbing, Bowerbirds hightail it back to the woods and gratefully embrace their stained copies of Walden. Two years later, they're creeping back into the big city—no sudden movements, y'all. Mercury Lounge, mercuryloungenyc.com
Boyz II Men
You know what your problem is? You don't like anything recorded after 1997 or any musician Brandy didn't date. The world is a horrible den of iniquity nowadays—you should see what passes for a bag of M&Ms, and why aren't pants baggy anymore? Also, you have too much money. Too bad there isn't an insouciantly reassuring nostalgia act coming through town, a group of palms-up crooners who just happen to be the most commercially successful r&b act of all time, whose ranks have diminished slightly, but not their tear-stained poetry of unyielding love. And too bad they can't perform in a venue that serves oysters. Oh, wait . . . Righteous! B.B. King Blues Club & Grill, bbkingblues.com
Ottmar Liebert & Luna Negra
Many people insist they defy categorization, and most of them are in R.E.M., but Ottmar Liebert actually does. A German-born guitarist and composer raised in Asia and Europe, he was born to a Hungarian mother and Chinese-German father and is ordained as a Zen monk. His Grammy-nominated, revolving ensemble Luna Negra performs Nouveau Flamenco rhythms with elements of Hindu meditation chants, salsa, bossa nova, and jazz-pop. All this, and he gets shelved in the "New Age" graveyard—now that, truly, is beyond words. Blue Note Jazz Club, bluenote.net