Review Summary: Current front-women of [L]Metric[/L], Emily Haines, has released her much anticipated solo debut. With her backing band, The Soft Skeletons (which includes Scott Minor, Evan Cranley, and fellow band mate Jimmy Shaw), Emily delivers a truly excellent album
Emily Haines has been at the forefront of the indie music scene recently, with Metric’s hit album, Live It Out, making waves among fans and critics. Known for her wild antics while playing onstage with Metric, Emily has also gained fame through her song writing and lyrical influence within Metric. Not to mention, Emily is regarded as one of the leading female singers in indie today, and rightfully so. It will be a surprise to fans to hear that on this album, she has turned to piano driven ballads instead of the normal dance-infused rhythms of indie pop. Why? She claims in a recent interview that she has a constant drive to rearrange herself and not become a one-sided act. Her reasons for changing her sound are legitimate, if not philosophical, but does it work?
One thing you must know is that, like on Amy Millan
’s solo record, most of the songs are older. Emily has been working on this album on and off for about 4 years, recording in more then 4 different cities. Though the songs are similar in nature, one does get a feeling of change on this record. Emily goes through a lot of different ideas, especially in her lyrics. She has described this record as a sort of a movie or a story about coming of age. Keep this in mind while listening to the album. The album opens up with the aptly named opener “Our Hell”, which is a kind of synopsis for the rest of the record. From the first few notes churned out from the piano, one can tell that this is a beautiful song. Though incredibly sparse in instrumentation, the song is catchy and interesting at the same time, a common theme throughout the album. This song sets up the mood and atmosphere for the rest of the record. Throughout the album, every song has at least one excellent line. For me, this songs best lines are “What I thought was in is missing out”, as well as the last verse which goes “There’s a pattern in the system/There’s a bullet in the gun/That’s why I tried to save you/But it can’t be done”. This song is an excellent way to start off the album and one of my personal favourites. The next song is the single, “Doctor Blind”. Instead of beautiful, this song is quite dissonant and “evil” sounding. This fits the lyrics, that deal with the corruption of today’s society and its reliance on medicine to solve all its problems. Emily’s voice is dreamy and flowing on this song, emphasizing the subject of society’s drug abuse. The addition of strings in the background is excellent and adds to the overall atmosphere of the song. My favourite line here is “All your pain/ Will end here/ Let the doctor/ Soothe your brain, dear”. I enjoyed this song very much, though I do not consider it one of the best on the album.
The next song is “Crowd Surf Off A Cliff” and is the first true ballad on the album, with only Emily’s voice and the piano. It is also the longest song on the album, almost reaching 6 minutes. This song seems to be in the same key as the last one and opens very similarly. This is the only complaint I have about it. It is slower then the previous two and adds an eerie reverb to Emily’s voice. This song is a mix between beauty and haunting, and balances the two expertly. My favourite line is “It won’t be enough to be rich/Rather give the world away than wake up lonely”. The lyrics are very good right through, and somewhat overshadow the melodies of the song. This is one of my favourites for lyrical content, but not for musical content. The next song, “Detective Daughter”, steps the tempo up again. This has another catchy melody, like a cross between “Our Hell” and “Doctor Blind”. This is where we get our first real glimpse at the guitar additions, some of them made by Emily herself. The guitar acts the way the strings do in “Doctor Blind”, gently adding to the overall atmosphere of the album. The chorus on this song is particularly interesting and enjoyable, with some additional background vocals added. As for lyrical content, this song has probably one of the best on the album. Some of my favourite lines are “There are so many skirts under the table/ None of these long legs are mine/ She calls me around, finds me crying/ Wish I were capable of lying sometime”. If you listen carefully, at around 2:30, you catch a melody that sounds quite like John Lennon
’s song Love, off of the 1970 album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. Ten seconds later, Emily starts singing a verse based around Lennon’s writing style for that song. It goes “Love is hell/Hell is love/Hell is asking to be loved” whereas Lennon’s version goes “Love is free, free is love/Love is living, living love/Love is needing to be loved”. Emily seems to be contrasting the different meanings of love in different times by referencing Lennon. In her eyes, the modern world is a place where you must go through hell to experience and gain love, while in Lennon’s eyes, love is life and is required. This could also be adding to Lennon’s image of love by saying that even though love is life, it is also “hell” to find and keep love. Overall, an excellent song and definitely one of the best on the record.
The song that follows is “The Lottery”, one of the catchiest songs that includes a very cool groove. The strings are added again on this song. An excellent part of this song is when the intro, which is in 4/4 (or common time), changes to 3/4 for the verses. It is an unexpected turn, but a welcome one that adds much to the song. Emily’s singing is with an air of cavalier confidence and self-assurance. Again, the lyrics are excellent, dealing with crime, sex, and feminism. My favourite line in this one is “I only wanted what everyone wanted since bras started burning up ribs in the sixties” as well as “It’s impossible/Like girls in stilettos/Trying to run”. An excellent, catchy song overall. The next song is “The Maid Needs A Maid”, the second ballad like song on the album. This song carries the charming yet surly message of feminism with such lines like “Bros before hos is the rule/Read the guidelines”. Through its sarcastic humour, there is a hint of sorrow, as we know that such lines as “Your mouth should be working for me for free” are too often true. Sad and amusing, this is another solid song. “Mostly Waving” kicks things up a notch, with an evil sounding and jumpy piano riff to open things up. When I first listened to this album, this song really woke up me. Though the lyrics are probably the weakest on the album, the melody defiantly makes up for it. There is horn arrangements backing Emily’s calm voice and abrupt piano lines. The best line is “Don’t elaborate like that/You’ll frighten off the frat boys/Use your baby talk”, showing just how much venom Emily can pack in her lyrics. A great song, but like “The Maid Needs A Maid”, probably one of the weakest on the record.
Next comes “Reading In Bed”, another soft ballad with some additional cello, trombone and what sounds like an accordion. Like “Crowd Surf Off A Cliff”, this song mixes dissonance and beauty, except much more effectively. The chorus is probably one of the most beautiful moments on the record, with Emily’s voice soaring with her floating piano arpeggios. This is the shortest song on the record, but probably one of the most enjoyable. The following song, “Nothing & Nowhere” is in my opinion the best song on the record. Using the same weird reverb effect that “Crowd Surf Off A Cliff” uses on Emily’s voice, this song is very atmospheric and powerful. It is again only Emily and the piano. This song is hard to describe, because it is so simple yet so effective. My favourite line would have to be “Some say our life is insane/But it isn’t insane on paper”, probably one of the best lyrics on the record. A very beautiful and moving song, and my personal favourite. If you don’t buy this record, then at least try and get a listen to this song. After this, comes “The Last Page”, which is, ironically, the second last song. I was not too impressed with this as much as I was with the tracks that precede and succeed this song. Another ballad that adds some cool background vocals, it has a chilled out rhythm and vocals. The lyrics are pretty good, but nothing exceptional. What it lacks in lyrical content, it makes up for in some cool melodies, especially just before the drums come in. I’d say this is probably one of the more average tracks on the record. This still makes it a solid song and would be single content for any number of lesser bands.
The last song, “Winning”, is probably the second best song on the album. As the first song, “Our Hell”, is a synopsis of the album, this is like the conclusion. Some very beautiful melodies on this track, maybe even the best on the album, particularly on the chorus. The lyrics are solid too, which seem to be about love and charity. What really shines on this track is Emily’s vocals. She doesn’t hold anything back on this track. Instead of singing in the dreamy, mellow voice she usually does, she sings clean and clear. She sings most of this in a higher range then the rest of the record, which adds to the fragility of this song and its message. Her singing after the last chorus is very powerful. This is by far the most moving song on the album, and in my opinion, one of the most moving songs I’ve heard. It is an excellent closer to an excellent album.
Though I thoroughly enjoyed this album, I am not going to give it a 5. There is a reason for this. This album is very personal to Emily and she performs it so that you feel she is singing directly to you. For this reason, this album is almost too personal to be considered a classic. I would feel that I was giving something away if I gave this a 5. This will not make any pop Top 10 charts and that’s the beauty of it. Through giving it a 5, I would feel I was saying that this should be on the Top 10, which it was never meant to. And so, I give it a 4.5. Though I have only owned the album for a couple of weeks, I am sure that it will make an impression upon many people, while still staying sacred. Will time wear down this album’s majesty? Personally, I think not.