Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton - Knives Don't Have Your Back
I've been trying to write this review for a couple of weeks now, and all I can say is: DAMN. This is GOOD. Well, no, I can say more, but every time I throw this on, I forget that I'm supposed to be writing something and just get lost in it. Knives Don't Have Your Back is eleven tracks of stripped-down, piano-based melodies, bittersweet lyrics and lazy vocals; this is Emily Haines guiding you through an absinthe-tinged cabaret, drawing her smoky voice across your wrists and throat like scarves in a softcore bondage scene.
Most piano-laden singer/songwriters have a tendency to come across as self-indulgent, or desperate for attention, trying to show the world that they can do alone what most groups do collectively; here, Haines pulls off the solo effort (well, somewhat solo - The Soft Skeleton features members of Broken Social Scene and Sparklehorse, among other groups, but it's easily apparent that they're only here under her direction) confidently, as she seems well aware of the exact effect her songs are having on the listener, and knows just when to reign them in accordingly.
To be honest, there's not much difference between these and some of the slower songs done by Metric, her 'full-time' gig - though this is hardly a detraction, as Haines' talents are by no means hidden in that group; her vocals and lyrics are two of Metric's greater weapons, and both are in fine form here. Knives Don't Have Your Back is a dark recording, equal parts sad and sexy; musically, it's patient, deceptively simple. and ultimately beguiling, while lyrically Haines is both ruthless and world-weary without coming off as either catty or depressing. If she keeps coming up with material of this quality on her own, then I don't mind waiting a bit longer for the next Metric album.
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on 2007-06-14 dadair Said:
Maybe it's broad nature of the material and the number of personnel involved in the other outfits concerned, Broken Social Scene and Metric. That often cloaks the personal and mundane, but commanding and trouble hued vocal stance of the genuine and sincere Emily Haines? It seems that The Soft Skeleton is the right base for the flesh of this authentic character to rest upon. The winding folk/blues ballad, 'Doctor Blind' uses a prominent string and piano element to coax along the pleading, but soulful pining. The boundaries between wistfulness and desperation become murky and blurred. 'Crowd Surf Off A Cliff', mixes the lush world inhabited by Emiliana Torrini with the enigma that is Kate Bush and even Tori Amos. Dark poetry creeps out of a slow noire, instrumental trickle.
Haines' supple projection and weighty heart adds extra feeling and texture to the epic 'Detective Daughter', as the mood is slowly set to reflective mode. "There's a new crime; sexual suicide."
This snappy lyrical snippet from the more colourful 'The Lottery', will make this heart tugging songstress, t-shirt slogan a compiler's dream. Atmospheric piano elements seep through this fourteen track journey, like the smell of fresh bread into the cold air. It is patently obvious through tracks like the Nerina Pallot doused 'The Maid Needs A Maid' and the horn peppered, lounge lull out 'Mostly Waving' that Haines is relishing the chance to truly explore her range. Comparisons to Elliot Smith are bound to be drawn, but that misses the point somewhat, this is a singer who seems in control of her feelings and knows exactly how to project them. The eerie and theatrical, doom-depicting 'The Last Page' and the Aqualung element instilled into 'Winning', hold up a proud heart for all who desire to look into.
With commitments such as hers, Haines does an impeccable job of stopping and taking stock and the pressure on her time is only going to grow. This is, with the popularity that should follow this searching debut.