After nearly a decade, Metric’s powerhouse front woman Emily Haines has released another solo project as Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton, and EH & TSS fans collectively breathed a quiet but passionate fist pump this past September when Choirs of the Mind hit our ears. Her signature solo sound is like an old friend, and the album doesn’t disappoint for those looking for the nostalgic 2006 “Knives Don’t Have Your Back” vibe. While a little more refined, Haines’ velvety-soft vocals, haunting 9-foot grand piano from the 1850’s and wounded-but-wise lyricism deliver the same melancholy magic on this 13 track album.
We love the classic EH &TSS sound of simple stripped down, lace-like voice and piano, but we also love the new direction she took of a more vocally-charged and thicker sound on this release. Sonically interesting and more texturized, tracks like the album openers “Planets” with choir-like harmonies and “Fatal Gift” with driving synths and repetitive lines–“you own it and it owns you”, she draws the listener in. We also really enjoyed the variety of sounds shown on this album. From a sassy Bossa Nova on “Statuette” to an easy-going waltz on “Minefield of Memory“, we were pleasantly surprised by the wide range of styles on this beautifully-packaged piece of work. It displays Haines’ writing prowess and maturity as a solo artist so simply.
Lyricism is always a prevalent feature on EM & TSS albums, and Choir of the Mind is no exception. She uses the title track “Choir of the Mind” to showcase spoken word adapted from a poem by the Indian mystic Sri Aurobindo, and uses a ‘call and response’ type platform to keep the repetitiveness interesting. As a melody-loving rhythm seeking listener, this track (at first) was difficult to stay with. But she uses really poignant phrases like “She shuts eternity into an hour” and the beautiful “the unfinished creation of a changing soul, in a body changing with the inhabitant”, and ends the track with a flippant “That’s it!”. All in all, something we were intrigued and delighted by.
She innocently drops truth bombs all over this album, meant to provoke thought and question the very throws of our society– “Statuette” being a prime example. She mentions this in her recent interview on emilyhaines.com: “I think it’s stupid the way we reward vanity and greed, the way we crown famous people, perpetuate the same old social hierarchies. I tried to convey this on “Statuette”, how our arts and culture are really based around this idolatry of specialness”. The line in the song “…what we have in common is so easy to find. We’re wound around each other like wires in bombs” –drives it home for us, every time.
The album is intentional and wonderfully calculated, right down to the album artwork by Toronto artist Justin Broadbent, who has done work for Metric before. At first, Haines’ stark beauty and odd-choice of attire grabs the eye, but upon listening to the album, you realize how connected the glittery blue dress, bright orange gloves and baseball bat really are. Even a small detail that might go unnoticed like the (possibly fake?) parental advisory sign, which is usually located on the bottom right or left of the artwork is smack in the middle of her dress and we’ve only heard two quiet swears so far… but I guess we could be reaching there…that is art right? To cause us to question? Cheeky!
Other Broken Chord faves on this album include: “Wounded” with echoes creating a mysterious and enticing rhythm, “Legend of the Wild Horse” swirling and soft. “Sirens” has a hushed sadness with a hint of regret, and sleepy tracks “Nihilist Abyss“, “Strangle all the Romance” and “Irish Exit” make up a stunning list of artistry. The book-end album closer “RIP” ends the album like it begins–stacked choir-like vocals and then added a delicious mopey electric guitar.
We adore this release, and find it to be a perfect compliment to the dozy fall days and wild world change happening so far this year.