Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton – [Album]

Monday, 30 July 2007

I awake to a friendly, apologetic voice of a gal pal asking for forgiveness for her birthday-bash plans that have taken us to a rather rashly hip, hot and sticky London club with a DJ bill tough enough to satisfy any pair of skinny jeans. The venue is three stories full of drunken asymmetrical haircuts and runny eyeliner. It’s a wonder how any brace of dancing shoes manage to stay sane and not get lost in this sweaty, pungent, rock ‘n’ roll house of mirrors. I vaguely recall the word “Metric” appearing on the bill, but I figured it was just another English DJ sharing monikers with the famous Canadian quartet, sharing it, seemingly, safely bound by the Atlantic Ocean between them.

Chasing eachother up and down flights of stairs to monitor each room’s action, we discover that the “Metric” mentioned on the bill actually refers to that Emily Haines-fronted Canadian quartet. Quickly after our entrance into the room, we discover that we’ve missed their entire set, and the roaring applause from the crowd is a response to Metric’s final encore. I recognize Haines as the moppy-maned slim figure painted in a white two-piece sequins ensemble and some shin-high vintage boots. Her chic sense of style is the least threatening aspect of the performance, and I quickly realize that by our immature, inebriated irresponsibility, had sorely missed out, sorely indeed, on experiencing what was probably a really great show. More impressive is that rather than messily capitalize on her token arty-girl good looks with messy, shallow solo treks, Haines returns with the politely absorbed What is Free to a Good Home?

The brassy currents of “Rowboat” speak of maturely weathered farewell; the weightlessness of the trumpeted melody articulates both melancholic dwelling and freewheeling escape. This conflict is further exemplified by Haines’ signature half-spoken weariness; she constantly sounds like she’s never endingly caught in a daydream. Whimsically meditating whilst wide awake or just about to fall asleep, she sounds forever in a state of transition. The tinkering piano trails zigzags about itself resonating a fuzzy warmness and introspective sensibility that creates this uniquely fatigued expression, as if the entire song were sung during one, long-overdue exhale. Haines’ stylistic sleepiness blankets the instrumental delivery, casting an aloof shadow that produces a wonderfully smoky shapelessness, which makes staple structures, melodic hooks, and kitchen-sink pop-culture references pleasant surprises.

“Whatever it is, spit into a bottle and sell it to me,” she croons during speak-easy spoke-song “The Bank;” but her nasally utterance is so stylishly saturated, this perhaps, intentionally-intoxicated slur is less convincing and I get the impression that she just enjoys the sheer delight of singing the sweet syllable arrangements instead of actually believing the words escaping her lips. With piano-led “Telethon” and achingly pretty, cello-guided “Bottom Of The World,” much of Home sounds like a beautifully crafted, cloudy Sunday afternoon session of intimate self-reflection and case sensitive consideration until the trippy “Just Waving” appears. The soupy, stir-it-up bass and popping static contribute party-vibe variety out of nowhere, but it somehow strangely envelopes the quaint collection of tunes, and from the elusively fascinating Haines, I would expect nothing less.

More on Emily Haines:

What is Free to a Good Home? is out now on Last Gang

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