Knives Don't Have Your Back

Emily Haines / Emily Haines & the Soft Skeleton

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Knives Don't Have Your Back Review

by Stewart Mason

Emily Haines is so thoroughly the public face of the dance-happy neo-wavers Metric that the idea of a solo album seems redundant at first. As it turns out, however, Knives Don't Have Your Back is utterly unique, far removed not only from Metric's often-hyper pulse but also from atmospheric post-rock gems like Broken Social Scene's gorgeous "Anthems for a 17-Year-Old Girl," still likely the song Haines is best known for overall. Members of both bands do appear here, but the focus of Knives Don't Have Your Back is strictly on Haines' vocals and piano. Recorded together live in the studio, with other instruments and vocals layered on afterwards, Haines' impressive keyboard skills (only hinted at in her other work) and alluring, throaty voice mesh perfectly; the combination gives Knives Don't Have Your Back the intimacy of a '70s singer/songwriter album, or perhaps that of a small-combo jazz album. That last comparison isn't at all that far-fetched: Haines is the daughter of the late Montreal jazz poet Paul Haines, and the spare black-on-gold all-text artwork is undoubtedly an homage to the similarly austere covers of her father's best-known albums, the Carla Bley collaborations Escalator Over the Hill and Tropic Appetites. An even closer comparison is Robert Wyatt, who provides a glowing testimonial on the back cover. Like Wyatt's solo work, Haines marries a sharp social conscience ("The Maid Needs a Maid," neatly riffing off an old Neil Young song, calmly eviscerates the frat-boy mentality in a single quiet verse) with a tendency toward elegiac, unhurried melodies. However, the keen pop scene that's Metric's strong suit can still be found on subtly hooky tunes like "Our Hell" and the simply lovely "Reading in Bed." Although far more low-key than Metric's nervy rock or Broken Social Scene's epic sweep, Knives Don't Have Your Back is a mature and engaging work revealing an exciting new side of Emily Haines, who is quietly turning into one of pop's most compelling presences.

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