Life is beautiful. The world is cruel. Music still matters. Metric have wrestled with these truths for 15 years, but their new album, Pagans in Vegas, takes them on in an entirely new way.
Six LPs into an inspiring career that's seen them collaborate with legends like Lou Reed, perform with the Rolling Stones, entertain the Queen of England, become the first band in history to score their first Top 20 commercial radio hit in the U.S. without the backing of an outside label, win a plethora of awards including Junos for Album of the Year and Artist of the Year, pen the theme song for Twilight: Eclipse with Howard Shore (for which the music garnered nominations for both an Oscar and a Grammy), release an interactive app directly to fans, and set up an esoteric toll-free number for their dedicated listeners to navigate the past and future of their music, Metric have their creative process on lock. But nothing about Pagans in Vegas, set for release in September 2015, came together like any other Metric record.
For starters, it was born during the band's scheduled year off, when frontwoman Emily Haines retreated to Nicaragua and found herself writing on acoustic guitar while guitarist-producer Jimmy Shaw became obsessed with his CS80 synth back home in Toronto. When it came time to start turning these explorations into an album, they turned to the band's go-to mixer, Grammy-nominated John O'Mahony, to co-produce alongside Shaw. "The songs that made it onto Pagans in Vegas weren't written with an overarching concept in mind," Shaw says. "Synthetica was about the battle between what's human and what's artificial, and integrating technology into our lives," Haines explains, referring to the band's — Haines, Shaw, bassist Josh Winstead and drummer Joules Scott-Key — acclaimed 2012 LP. "And with this record we were making music for the joy of it. We're still in the game as musicians and people, although the game has gotten increasingly unrecognizable to us."
Irrepressible first single "The Shade" originated in one of Shaw's daily synth jams and Haines wrote the lyrics during sessions at Oscilloscope Labs (the studio the Beastie Boys' Adam "MCA" Yauch built to record the group's later albums). "All the stuff that sucks and is beautiful — that's being alive," Haines says of the joyous anthem. "You get the sunshine and the shade, and if you're lucky you're going to feel everything."
On powerful opener "Lie Lie Lie," Haines is feeling the frustration of the pop machine, where female artists have finally returned to the fold, "but everyone is in their underwear," she explains. On trippy "Celebrate," she grapples with how the time of obliviously reveling in your own good fortune without paying any attention to what's going on around you is over. And on the alternately dark and buoyant "For Kicks," she flips the traditional breakup song on its head, singing from the perspective of the heartbreaker over a crush of synths.
In an effort to translate the gratifying experience of discovering an artist you love, Metric packed their new album with reverent references to artists who’ve inspired them, from Depeche Mode, New Order, The Cure and Underworld all the way back to Kraftwerk. Haines explains it was about finding "the romance of another time without falling into nostalgia." (The concept is also perfectly captured on the album's cover, which features a shot of Memphis' Hotel Chisca, the spot where Elvis Presley did his first broadcast interview.) But despite a few glances in the rearview, Pagans in Vegas stitches together its acoustic and synthetic foundations with a crisp, unique now-ness that captures the quandaries of life in an age where bad news is unavoidable and great art is a life-saver.
Shaw sees the album's title as an apt meditation on "people with a conscience, for better or worse, playing around in the arena of unconscionable behavior" and notes how the album skillfully blurs the lines between genres. "We tried to be as bold as possible," he says. (Shaw also takes lead vocals on "Other Side," a vibey, silky track that announces, "All we want is to feel like all we got didn't cost us everything, even if we never win.")
Before "Fortunes" explodes into a euphoric chorus, Haines sings of a world that's magical, sinister and inescapable. "The way we hang out and fall in love and enjoy life — it's the essence of what makes people human," she says of the "pagans" in the album's title. "People have been playing with stones and dice forever, creating games and music and ways to connect. We may use a different medium now, but that's still who we are."
Over the course of their 15-year career, Minus the Bear have carved out their own unique musical world. This isn’t to say they’re impervious to outside influence. They’ve borrowed components from a wide swath of genres—the brainy clangor of New York’s proto-punk scene, the cerebral buzz of IDM, the poptimist evaluation of hip-hop and R&B, and the grandiose visions of prog rock—but always managed to defy classification. Throughout the first decade of their existence, every new album offered a new musical approach, as seen in the idiosyncratic fretboard gymnastics of Highly Refined Pirates, the glitchy loops of Menos el Oso, or the modernized Fripp-inspired wizardry of Planet of Ice. By the time the band entered our current decade, their knack for reinvention yielded to an emphasis on refinement. Albums like OMNI and Infinity Overhead searched for a middle ground where their myriad of stylistic approaches could all work within the context of a single record.
On their sixth album VOIDS, Minus the Bear started with a blank slate, and inadvertently found themselves applying the same starting-from-scratch strategies that fueled their initial creative process. “There was a lot of change and uncertainty,” says guitarist David Knudson. “I think the general vibe of emptiness, replacement, lacking, and longing to fill in the gaps was very present in everyones’ minds.” Change was everywhere. Keyboardist/vocalist Alex Rose took on a more prominent role in composition and handled lead vocal duties on songs like “Call the Cops,” “Tame Beasts,” and “Robotic Heart,” drummer Kiefer Matthias joined the fold, producer Sam Bell lent a fresh set of ears in the studio, and the band returned to their original label home at Suicide Squeeze Records. Minus the Bear were no longer swept along by the momentum that had driven them for the last fifteen years. Instead, they reached a point where they could recalibrate and redefine who they were as a musical entity. The resulting album VOIDS retains many of the band’s signature qualities—the hedonistic tales of nighttime escapism and candid vignettes of adulthood, the savvy up-tempo beats, the layered and nuanced instrumentation—while simultaneously reminding us of the musical wanderlust that initially put them on the map.
Album opener “Last Kiss” immediately establishes the band’s renewed fervor. An appropriately dizzying guitar line plunges into a propulsive groove before the chorus unfolds into a multi-tiered pop chorus. From there the album flows into “Give & Take”, a tightly wound exercise in syncopation that recalls the celebratory pulse of early Bear classics like “Fine + 2 Pts” while exploring new textures and timbres. “Invisible” is arguably the catchiest song of the band’s career, with Jake Snider’s vocal melodies and Knudson’s imaginative guitar work battling for the strongest hooks. “What About the Boat?” reminds us of the “math-rock” tag that followed the band in their early years, with understated instrumentation disguising an odd-time beat. “Erase,” recalls the merging of forlorn indie pop and electronica that the band dabbled with on their early EPs, but demonstrates the Bear’s ongoing melodic sophistication and tonal exploration. By the time the band reaches album closer “Lighthouse,” they’ve traversed so much sonic territory that the only appropriate tactic left at their disposal is a climactic crescendo, driven at its peak by Cory Murchy’s thunderous bass. Not since Planet of Ice’s “Lotus” has the Bear achieved such an epic finale. All in all, it’s an album that reminds us of everything that made us fall in love with Minus the Bear in the first place, and a big part of that appeal is the sense that the band is heading into uncharted territories.
Suicide Squeeze Records is proud to release VOIDS to the world on March 3, 2017 on CD, LP, and cassette. Nick Steinhardt designed the artwork and layout for all formats. The first pressing of the album is available on 5,000 copies of splatter colored vinyl and 5,000 copies of 180 gram black vinyl. The LP jacket features PMS inks, a die-cut cover with a printed inner sleeve and contains a download code. The cassette version is limited to 500 copies and includes a download code as well.
Two bearded Austin, TX musical misfits with an affinity for D.I.Y. electro-trap production, clever lyrical quips, and sticky alternative hooks, Missio regularly subvert expectations. Case in point, an upbeat lullaby-esque melody about, “Throwing middle fingers in the air” introduced the duo—Matthew Brue & David Butler—to audiences everywhere with the aptly titled breakout single, “Middle Fingers.” At the beginning of 2017, the track exploded on SiriusXM’s Alt Nation, and the band landed a deal with RCA Records. This signature style stands out as the product of their unique and undeniable union as well as years of dedication. Founded in 2014 as a side project for Matthew, longtime friend David joined him after one studio session.
“At the time, we were both coming out of other bands,” recalls Matthew. “I called him to play these demos I had. We were in the same spot musically, and we just related to each other."
“There’s no bullshit in Missio,” David declares. “It’s all from the heart and genuine. The balance between us is perfect. Matthew is more of a classic songwriter who will sit down and write melodies for hours. I bring my producer background. I love arranging, I love beats, and I love sounds. The marriage of those two worlds completes a puzzle.”
For all of the harmony between them, their respective backgrounds represent something of a Yin and Yang. Born and raised in Colorado, Matthew received classical piano training as a child and toured the world in a choir. In Houston, seven years his senior David “grew up in the least musical household ever” and didn’t pick up guitar until the age of 16. David escaped the Office Space-style corporate world in order to pursue a career as a producer and audio engineer, while Matthew spent a year living in a remodeled 1974 Airstream, “learning how to write better songs.” They had crossed paths many times in the Austin music scene, but their initial collaboration would prove life-changing—literally.
“When we were in the studio, we just started talking about our lives,” David goes on. “Completely unplanned, I mentioned that my wife and I were looking for a roommate...”
“I told him that I was thinking about moving out of the Airstream,” laughs Matthew. “We’ve been roommates for as long as the band has existed.”
David transformed the garage into a professional recording studio, ripping down walls by hand, tearing up the floors, constructing a control room, setting up iso booths, and designing a veritable creative hive for the band. He would handle the bulk of the production as Matthew penned lyrics and took on lead vocals. In between their SXSW debut in 2015 and tours with Australia’s SAFIA and K. Flay (for which David built Missio’s light rigs), they wrote and recorded countless songs. “I Don’t Even Care About You” landed at #7 on Spotify’s Top 50 Global Viral Chart after popping up on the Fresh Finds Playlist. As buzz grew, their music appeared on MTV’s Scream and Finding Carter, Oxygen’s Bad Girls Club, and in a Victoria’s Secret spot. With its keyboard boom, handclaps, and sweeping chant, “Middle Fingers” ignited their profile, rhyming social media-worthy lines like, “I am tired of seeing pretty people everywhere” and “I used to drink with whisky now I’m stuck with Perrier.”
“That was actually the very first song we sat down together and wrote,” says Matthew. “I felt like, ‘Fuck everything right now.’ When you hear something like ‘Middle Fingers,’ you would assume it’s a fuck you to the world. It’s actually not. In a way, it’s a song about unity. It’s not fuck you; it’s fuck this situation, which everyone can apply to their own lives. There’s no better feeling than seeing hundreds of people from different religious and political backgrounds forget about everything and raise their fingers together. Flipping the bird can unite us.”
Everything encases a powerful message for the guys. In Latin, Missio translates to “Mission.”
“Before we started the band, I got Missio tattooed on my wrist,” Matthew continues. “I have a history of addiction and being in recovery. It’s something I deal with every day. I fell in love with the word, because it helped me focus on being sober and having a mission towards that. It transitioned into this music.”
As Missio prepare their full-length debut Loner for release, Matthew and David are on a mission to connect with listeners everywhere.
“There’s a deeper side to Missio,” David leaves off. “We both love hook-y music and inspiring beats, but what we value most is honesty. I hope that comes across and can be something audiences rely on.”
“As a whole, all of the songs revolve around being in seclusion,” Matthew concludes. “There are so many people out there who feel that isolation. Being in a band with this sort of lyrical content, it’s all about reaching listeners, meeting them at shows, hearing their stories, and helping them feel like they can relate to someone. Maybe we can make the world feel not so alone.”
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