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Metric’s relentless pursuit of timeless songwriting and fiercely independent ethos have cemented their place as one of the most essential and ahead-of-the-curve bands of the last two decades. By constantly upping themselves across nine unpredictable and adventurous studio albums, the trailblazing Toronto outfit founded by songwriting and production partners Emily Haines and Jimmy Shaw along with bandmates Joshua Winstead and Joules Scott Key is proof that you can amass an untouchable catalog without ever signing to a major label or changing your lineup. Their latest LP, Formentera II, out October 13 via their label Metric Music International and Thirty Tigers, is a testament to their singular purpose. It stands among their best and most genre-defying work and closes the 18-song cycle started by 2022’s critically acclaimed Formentera.
After a conversation about their own disillusionment with Toronto’s music scene at the time, Haines and Shaw formed what would become Metric in 1998. Though both were also founding members of the influential and sprawling Canadian indie rock outfit Broken Social Scene, Metric was always the top priority, and shortly after they met and cemented their mission, they left Toronto for New York in search of like-minded artists. They found themselves at the center of the city’s burgeoning alt-rock scene alongside bands like LCD Soundsystem, The Strokes, TV On the Radio, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol, and more. But unlike their peers, Metric stayed independent and refused major label offers, choosing instead to release albums that pushed boundaries on their own terms. “We made a conscious effort from the beginning to not draw a straight line from album to album,” says Shaw. “It established us as sonically adventurous, as risk takers. And people now expect us to zigzag, to do something different, and to try new things. That's always been the point, it's what keeps us interested.”
Formentera II continues the band’s unparalleled creative chemistry. Like its predecessor, the second LP was written during a period of personal and societal upheaval starting in early 2020. Haines and Shaw, then living ten minutes away from each other in a rural hamlet outside Toronto, knew that the only thing they could do with the world so chaotic was to get to work writing. The first song Haines finished was “Days of Oblivion,” a haunting and searching track inspired by the Grateful Dead’s “Days Between” that captures the anxiety of our time. It features the lyric, “It turns out these were the days.” Though expanded in the studio, the song stays true to Haines’ original writing of the song on piano and served as the flashpoint for Formentera. “The birth of the entire double album came from that song,” says Shaw. “I remember having dinner at Emily's sometime in March 2020 and my wife Carling said, ‘What if we end up looking back and saying these were actually the best of the days ahead?"
Despite their persistent worries about the state of the world and whether live music would ever return, this period was remarkably productive for Metric. “We were making this music without any real understanding of when our forced hiatus was going to end,” says Shaw. “The songs were mounting up way faster than any return to normalcy. That's when it started becoming clear that the goal should be to make a double album and to make it cohesive.” Working out of the band’s Main Street Studios, they amassed 18 songs that simultaneously encapsulated the outrage and chaos of the societal moment and the universal longing to escape reality. Formentera, an exotic Spanish Balearic island the band had never visited, served as a North Star to envelop these emotions. The band painstakingly sequenced the nine songs that flowed best together to make the first LP of the duology, which was released in July 2022. After debuting Formentera live on the Doomscroller Tour across North America and Mexico, they would revisit the latter half with fresh eyes.
When Metric went back to work on the remaining nine tracks, Shaw, along with co-producers Liam O’Neil and Gus van Go, resumed his existing obsession with formative French records like Air’s 10,000 Hz Legend, Daft Punk’s Around the World and Sébastien Tellier's Politics. With this inspiration, and the newfound flexibility to safely travel in 2022, the band decided to finish Formentera II where these influential LPs were recorded: Paris’ Motorbass Studios. Their trip served as a full circle moment for the band as the studio was in the neighborhood they first visited when they traveled to Paris promoting Olivier Assayas' 2004 film Clean. This collaboration would kickstart a formative cinematic streak for Metric, which includes scoring David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis with Howard Shore, writing the theme song for The Twilight Saga: Eclipse ( also with Shore), and contributing the song “Black Sheep” to Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. “The streets of Montmartre are among our most beloved places as a band,” says Haines. “We had these magical, whirlwind times in France thanks to Olivier in the early days when we had nothing. To be able to actually rejoin the world, play sold out shows in the UK and Europe, and end by finishing our ninth album in that particular studio on that exact street was an amazing way to complete Formentera.”
In Paris, Metric was reenergized to double down on their own tireless perfectionism to bring the album over the finish line. “We're pretty ruthless with getting songs to the quality of what they need to be,” says Haines. ”We don't care if it takes 5 million years, and we don't release anything until we get it right.” Take the lead single “Just The Once,” a playful synth-driven “regret disco” meditation on the word “once” and how easily you can let things slide as a moral human being. While the song was strong in the studio, they felt it needed something more. Inspired by the vivacity of Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia, the band decided to reach out to Drew Jurecka, who composed and arranged the strings on that LP to write for the track. The result is electric: a propulsive, dancefloor-ready song that shows the band at its most mesmerizing.
"The first part of Formentera started with a huge amount of anxiety and ended in a moment of personal release and freedom,” says Shaw. “But Formentera II takes that escape even further. The back half of Formentera II really takes you off the map completely and you end up in a place in your mind that is blissfully further from reality.” This freewheeling sensibility also came from kismet in the studio and during the writing sessions. According to Haines, the breezy and wistful single “Nothing Is Perfect” came about when a complete song she had written happened to exactly match a song Shaw was simultaneously writing. “Sometimes we both separately write the same song,” says Haines. “There are many weird, beautiful things that happen in the mind meld that Jimmy and I now occupy together.” Anchored by acoustic guitar, the track finds its resonance in Haines singing, “Nothing has come between us/nothing is wrong/nothing has always been here/ where nothing belongs." Elsewhere, “Who Would You Be For Me” boasts Shaw playing Frank Zappa’s ‘53 Les Paul. Lyrically, Haines nostalgically evokes the band’s early days in New York: frequenting Tompkins Square Park and the all-night cafe on St. Marks Place where she worked as a waitress.
Formentera II is a testament to the band’s unwavering love for each other and their insatiable desire to push themselves as artists. It’s a wildly experimental release that finds the band going into uncharted territory. It’s both a pleasurable salve for the present moment and a stark reminder of what’s left to do, nine inviting and alive songs forged out of personal upheaval and worldwide uncertainty. This is the kind of galvanizing music that only Metric, a group that’s consistently stayed true to each other and their ethics for decades, could create. “The battle as a band is not just to exist and thrive creatively 20 years in, but to be owning all our own material, to always be bringing our music to a wider audience and standing for something,” says Haines. “When people say indie, it's not just a guitar tone: it is actually really hard work. We've done it and we've stuck to our principles and maybe now it is finally paying off.”