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Metropolitan - Down For You Is Up

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Artist: Metropolitan

Album: Down For You Is Up

Label: Crank Automotive

Review date: Jul. 2, 2002

What happened to the 1980s? Not necessarily the big-hair, glitter-rock 80s or the John Hughes movie 80s, but the underground, SST Records, Murmur-era R.E.M., Daydream Nation 80s. As a sound, as a defining epoch, it’s well-traveled ground. Bands like Dinosaur Jr., Black Flag, Husker Du, and Sonic Youth took punk, among other things, and stretched it, often beyond recognition, making great, strange, complicated music that influenced countless bands. Everyone knows this, and everyone knows that these bands influenced Nirvana, which spawned the grunge boom, and blah blah blah. It’s 2002, and what began with an urgent need to create music has become Puddle of Mudd. A sad story, and one that doesn’t need further exploration.

What I mean is, what happened to the other sounds of the 80s? Nirvana’s Beatles-meets-Sabbath noise is only one offshoot of the era, and there are plenty of styles that are ripe for reclamation. One other option is taken by the Washington, D.C. band Metropolitan, who play rock that harkens back to the days of IRS records and New Zealand bands like the Bats and the Clean. “Westmoreland”, the first track on their new album Down for You Is Up, is the perfect distillation of the genre. The melody is a quick run of notes, played in unison by the bass and guitar, which quickly gives way to distorted, jangly chords and vocalist John Masters’ high-pitched, warbly voice. It’s obviously not revolutionary, but it’s like finding a really great sweater in your closet that you forgot about: it feels great, and it brings back a host of memories.

This is not to say that Metropolitan are pure revivalists. Rather, they seem to be intent on taking particular elements and pushing them further, as the aforementioned NZ bands have done in the late 80s and 90s. In past reviews of the band’s music, there are several allusions to Sonic Youth, implying that Metropolitan has seized on the more focused elements of that band’s sound and attempted to turn it into straight pop songs. This isn’t entirely accurate, but it provides a good sonic reference. And indeed, there are times when Metropolitan sound like what might happen if Thurston Moore played in a jangle-pop bar band just for kicks on the weekend. I don’t mean this in a derogatory way; it’s actually the band’s biggest strength. They don’t always transcend their influences, but when they do, the music they create is formidable, and it makes you wonder how some of these sounds got lost in the first place. It’s also a good reminder that if you’re going to draw from the past, it doesn’t necessarily need to be from either the Beatles/Beach Boys or Velvets/Stooges template. Metropolitan have picked up where some fine bands have left off, and they display a promising future of extension. After a few listens, however, one’s concerns about origin and appropriation are pushed aside by the fact that there are simply some great songs on this album, even if not absolutely everything works. “Wonderland”, “Slide Rule”, “Girl from Montpelier”, and “Wet Cigarette” all pulse with a restless energy and a genuine freshness of approach. They are also catchy as hell. Production by D.C. fixture Chad Clark is unfussy and straightforward, fusing the instruments together in a way not dissimilar to early R.E.M.

That said, Masters could focus more on his lyrics, as they occasionally slide into quasi-emo relationship chronicles. The strengths of the band, such as the inventive rhythm section and a penchant for sound collage, should be a focus on future recordings, which would allow the band to further define their own sound. It’s easy to make music of this ilk and sound entirely generic; Metropolitan don’t. If they can stretch themselves and continue to produce music with the passion and energy that they display here, they could turn out some great albums in the years to come.

By Jason Dungan

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