Release Date: Sep 15, 2017
Record label: Last Gang Records
On her second solo release and operating under the moniker of Emily Haines and the Soft Skeleton, Haines shows us a more intimate side. She is largely features her piano and soft falsetto for most of the album, at times the latter dominating with little accompaniment. And while the album sounds fantastic, Choir of the Mind's strength is the manner in which it touches on themes of empowerment.
Yes, it took some time, but Emily Haines’s follow-up to 2006’s exquisite Knives Don’t Have Your Back (which made our 50 Best Toronto albums list) and its companion EP, 2007’s What Is Free To A Good Home, feels like the hard-earned result of a decade spent processing experiences, exploring self and setting her findings to some highly listenable tuneage. Plus she’s been busy churning out a steady stream of albums with her high-energy dance-rock-fuelled primary project, Metric. (Bandmate Jimmy Shaw co-produced this solo Soft Skeleton album with Haines.) The differences between those projects are obvious.
WHAT'S DIFFERENT: The breathy frontwoman for Canadian alt-rock team Metric delivers her second solo album 10 years after the release of her debut, 2007's Knives Don't Have Your Back. Much of the austerity of her previous LP has been replaced with bigger production values ("Statuette," the existential club number "Fatal Gift") and more group playing than her previous piano/vocal introspection. WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: Haines delivers urgency and depth without having to shear off her throat lining, and she can convey vulnerability and uncertainty with a brave face.
It’s been a decade since we last heard from Emily Haines in her solo guise – not too surprising when you consider that the Metric.
It’s been eleven years since Emily Haines released her last record with the Soft Skeleton, ‘Knives Don’t Have Your Back’. In that time, she’s released another four albums with Metric and contributed to two Broken Social Scene LPs. In all that time, she’s still worked on solo music, stealing time away alone to write her own tracks, thirteen of which have been distilled into ‘Choir of the Mind’. ‘Knives Don’t Have Your Back’ dealt predominantly with dealing with the grief that came from the passing of Emily’s father - poet, writer and jazz lyricist Paul Haines – through sparse piano melodies and subtle arrangements.
You can take the anthemic punch out of Emily Haines, but you can’t take away the savvy cynicism that’s driven her work with Canadian indie-rockers Metric for two decades. Though some of Haines’ second solo album is more fleshed-out than 2007’s Knives Don’t Have Your Back, its main mode is piano-based introspection, leaving space for Haines’ ghostly voice and biting lyrics to resonate and reverberate. The main exception is Fatal Gift, where piano-backed reflections on obsessive, aspirant materialism shift into a hymnal indie-dance groove; Haines repeats “The things you own, they own you” like a church-y mantra.
Choir of the Mind returns Emily Haines to poignant piano-driven ballads that meld with her mellifluous voice, a sonic continuation of 2006’s Knives Don’t Have Your Back. A member of Metric and Broken Social Scene, it should be no surprise that Haines’ solo work is a departure from Metric’s 2015 effort, Pagans in Vegas, which found the band skewing toward a heavily electronic sound. Choir showcases Haines’ less bombastic songwriting, where she chooses to leave the songs in a more naked state instead of turning them into guitar anthems. The title track contains sections from the poem “Savitri” by Indian yogi Sri Aurobindo, which is significant on several levels.