Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton
As a fervent fan of the Canadian collective Broken Social Scene I've been an admirer of Emily Haines for some time. In her BSS guise she makes me swoon. Every time I hear 'Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl' from the album 'You Forgot it in People', (the stand out track from an album packed with potential stand out tracks) I wonder why they don't make more use of the mercurial Ms. Haines. Her sporadic presence in BSS always reminds me of a skillful winger stuck out on the sidelines away from the action. As an example 'Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl' reveals all that needs to be known of Emily Haines. Its all about the voice; one that makes me fall in love, believing she must be both beautiful and cool. Beautiful, because she sings like an ethereal siren. Cool, because when she sings of how 'you used to be one of the rotten ones and I liked you for that' she epitomises the existence of everyone who is, or ever was, a bona fide indie kid the world over. 'Knives Don't Have Your Back' explains why sometimes it's not always completely fulfilling to fall in love with the coolest girl around.
Some will know that Emily Haines is not only a sometime contributor to the Broken Social Scene but also the front woman of Metric, a more dancey and punky outfit which took London by storm with their live shows earlier this year. 'Knives Don't Have Your Back', her debut solo album backed by her band the Soft Skeleton, offers a collection of songs that one senses she has longed to reveal away from the limitations imposed by her alternative roles. It is essentially a series of confessions and tales of loss eeked from her soul via the conduit of a piano. This exposure is simultaneously touchingly tender and achingly painful. The obvious comparison to be made, based on fragile sentiments and confident piano loops, is with the early material of Tori Amos; though minus the melodrama. But more than any other act it is the Velvet Underground that springs to mind on first listen. Its not so much the music or attitude of Lou Reed and John Cale that this album recalls but it is the qualities, if not the actual tones, of the two female Velvets that haunts from the grave. 'Reading in Bed' and 'Our Hill' exemplify the manner in which Mo Tucker, on songs like After Hours, manged to display a femine vulnerability while 'Doctor Blind' and 'The Lottery' are reminiscent of Nico's brooding sexuality.
Just as the Velvet Underground were shot through with the energy of New York, Sigur Ros encapsulate the sound of Icelandic fjords, or the Beuna Vista Social Club are the essence of Cuba, the sound of 'Knives Don't Have Your Back' mirrors the geography of Emily Haine's Canadian homeland. The songs are so evocative of skating on frozen ponds with wintery skies and endless horizons. There are moments of absolute sublime beauty; 'Winning' and 'Nothing & Nowhere' are songs that can break your heart and then mend it in the space of just a few minutes. If you had your ipod set to shuffle and any one of these numbers came on randomly you would think that if this chosen song was representative of the whole album then 'Knives Don't Have Your Back' would warrant a rating of nothing less than 5 out of 5. There are no problems with any single one of the songs individually. They are subtley crafted with heart wrenching honesty in isolation, but stacked back to back they can leave one feeling a little cold. There is a longing for some comfort and warmth just as I imagine there would be if one fell through the ice of a frozen Canadian pond. Perhaps she is aware of this; on 'Reading in Bed' she asks 'after all the luck you've had, why are your songs so sad?' I'm still in love with Emily Haines but she's perhaps just a little bit too cool - no matter how beautiful a crisp winter morning is sometimes you just wish for the advent of some spring sunshine.