When a band pushes itself too hard for too long, complicating its life and sound in the process, the back-to-basics album inevitably results. Canadian band Metric went full throttle between 2003’s Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? and 2005’s Live It Out, which was written in 10 weeks and perfectly titled for Metric’s power-through-it approach. When the touring cycle finished, Metric’s members scattered to solo projects. Suffering from writer’s block, singer-keyboardist Emily Haines eventually decamped to Buenos Aires, where Fantasies took shape.
In new surroundings by herself, Haines reacted logically: with exhilaration and sheer terror. In “Help I’m Alive,” the first single from Fantasies, she sings, “Help, I’m alive / my heart keeps beating like a hammer,” over needling guitar and vaguely ominous synths. Haines calls Fantasies the “simplest and clearest” writing she’s done, and that direct approach connects well on “Sick Muse,” “Gold Guns Girls,” and “Gimme Sympathy.” (Chorus: “Who would you rather be, The Beatles or The Rolling Stones?”) The sound avoids fussiness, too: guitar, bass, synth, and percussion, no bloat. Aside from “Stadium Love,” the album lacks any outright rockers, though it has plenty of hooks—“Gimme Sympathy” sounds like a Killers B-side, while “Collect Call” echoes Death Cab For Cutie. Metric spent a year and a half writing Fantasies, and the patient approach pays off in the album’s atmosphere. With Haines, that has traditionally meant something haunted, though Fantasies finds her taking tentative steps toward optimism—the best possible outcome of getting back to basics.