Sunday, April 20, 2008

Musical Revue: Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton - What Is Free To A Good Home?

Although it may be considered slightly slow on the uptake to dish my opinions on an EP that was released in July of 2007, the latest solo release from Canadian indie music's hardest working woman was a big part of why we started this blog in the first place. So, all judgement towards my irresponsibility as a proper blogger aside, on with the Revue.

"What Is Free To A Good Home?" is a collection of previously unreleased tracks recorded during the sessions for Haines' 2006 LP "Knives Don't Have Your Back." The EP is meant to be a "companion piece" to the afformentioned LP, and it listens as such: intriguing songs that impress, but are not quite as good as those that made the cut. That being said, this blogger was pleased as punch to get my hands on a little more Emily Haines. Aside from the fact that she's insanely attractive (see photo above), the cynical sexuality contained in her vocal chords is enough to put the staunchest 50's housewife on her back, surrounded by candles, ready for a little self-love (and self-loathing). Track after track, Haines consistently manages to capture the punch and energy of her explosive Metric-front-woman personality and transfer it into sweet, sweeping, delicate serenades born from disillusionment and exhaustion.

Be it only 6 tracks long, "Home" does not fail to provide variety. Some tracks like "Telethon" and "Bottom of the World" are quiet, calm portraits of the endless wander of life, while others like "The Bank," with the unrelenting drum kit hemiola providing a perfect bed of tumult under Haines' lyrical ode to her aimless and draining nightlife, give listeners a brief oppurtunity to tap their toes while singing along.

And while references to pop culture icons like Huey Lewis and Billy Joel will jump out to anyone who's half paying attention, family homages are saved for those of us who take the time to listen (or read) closer. "Sprig," a song that's individual genre can be found somewhere between "pop tune" and "20th century electronic experimentation," is a musical setting of a poem by her late father Paul Haines, who also wrote a poem for guitarist Robert Wyatt called What is Free to a Good Home? Clearly no coincidence. And during "The Bank," Emily sings, "We can sit on the floor and listen to my brother's records," an obvious shout-out to her brother Tim Haines, owner of Bluestreak Records in Canada.

The stand out number on "Home" is its opener, "Rowboat." After commencing the EP with a soothing brass choir, the track breaks forth with ethereal vocals looming over a liquidy piano line, Haines singing, "I've been told I'm living a lie / I've been told all my life." Letting lyrics take the driver's seat (or the oares, if you will), "Rowboat" is comprised of three poetically distinct segments strung together by a smooth, finger-snap-inducing horn line that would be right at home in the opening credits of a 70's sitcom (i mean that to be a compliment). Concluding with a coda of sorts, Haines calls out the track's namesake, "Oh rowboat left in the rain / Drifting by on the lake / Rescue my one love from the grave," seemlessly melding beauty and solemnity as if there was no difference between the two.

Spending a little more time and money to consume a little more Emily Haines is always worth it. "Home" is an alluring, home-hitting opus that feeds on any vulnerability that its predecessor "Knives" may have left untouched, although that admittedly won't have been much. If you are already a fan of Haines' work, "Home" will not let you down, but if you are a newcomer among Haines fanatics and have a limited supply of income, buy "Knives Don't Have Your Back" first so you can a lay a foundation for this "Home" to stand on. However, If The Soft Skeleton is too muted for your tastes, don't give up. You can hear a louder, more brazen Emily Haines with Stars, The Stills, Delerium, and of course Metric and Broken Social Scene. In fact, if you own any indie album by a Canadian band, keep a sharp ear. Chances are, you'll find her on there somewhere.