Everybody has their own solitary cocoon. A haven to temporarily escape to. As much as she proudly enjoys being the lead vocalist of successful indie rock band Metric, every so often Emily Haines wishes to escape the blaring arenas and lock herself in a room to unleash her darkest personal thoughts with the aid of her breathy voice and a dusty 19th century piano.
In 2006, Haines recorded Knives Don’t Have Your Back, a simplistic yet refreshing contrast to her band material. An intelligent and tanglible analysis on topics that haunted her consciousness from the recent death of her father, to handling fame, to medical ignorance. Due to its diversity and brave themes that ventured further than just yawnful romance topics, it redefined what an intimate emotionally exposed album can be like.
A decade later, Haines has returned to her private space and once again openly given audiences the spare key to her cerebral chamber. On Choir Of The Mind, her second effort as Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton – the name she gives to credit her helping hands – she thankfully keeps her style but expands upon the simplicity of her piano and gauzy vocal combination with stunningly effective production layering and also focuses on the topic of female identity, a theme she briefly studied on the debut with ‘Maid Needs A Maid’.
Sure, It’s a topic that’s been done a lot recently but like with her debut, Emily Haines as usual brings something else to the table.
On the title track of Choir Of The Mind, Haines recites words from an epic Indian poem called Savitri from the early 1950’s written by guru Sri Aurobindo. She spontaneously stumbled upon a specific page in this book which investigates womenhood in a spellbinding new way. Thought provoking passages describe the female gender spiritually as “million impulsed force”, inventors of “devices of magic art” but also as having a “glory and her curse” and “for as long as the world lasts her failure exists.”
Haines deliveries her sermon in a style of a mantra and the fact that her father was a poet and she herself was born in India, it feels very close to her heart. Specific parts of the speech are echoed and repeated for emphasis with an impressive use of vocal cellophane layering. Haines voice is spread in various oscillating tones and colours over her percussive breathing and this is a common technique used throughout the album. She has such confidence in this style that it’s practically the only instrument on ‘Strange All Romance’ and substitutes for the effect of high hats on teenage story ‘Wounded’.
“All the water and the oil, you can buy any girl in the world. With the soil that you borrow and the moral you deny,” are words from the bossa nova ‘Statuette’, which can be seen strong comment on women who give away their self-respect and integrity for the promise of fame, wealth and special status. It’s accompanied by a promo that satirises demeaning couch auditions for modelling.
Fame and wealth is also showcased in the music video to the beautiful shape-shifting track ‘Fatal Gift’ with it’s use of paparazzi flashes and a limousine, although it’s a song that mainly studies addiction to consumerism and even borrows a paraphrased lesson from the film Fight Club: “The things you own, they own you.”
On ‘Siren’ and ‘Perfect On The Surface’, she tackles the compulsory perfection requirement that women need to be in the public eye, how they have to hide their inner feelings and how they need to fit into set categories. Yet it’s clear from both of her solo records that Haines wants to avoid that trap and armed with a baseball bat in the new sleeve she is unafraid to hit home her true thoughts.