After recording three full-length albums with her indie-electro-pop group Metric, Emily Haines finally ventures out on her own with her 2006 release, “Knives Don’t Have Your Back.”
I remember totally falling in love with Haines’ sugary, breathy voice after hearing Metric’s “Too Little Too Late.” In the beginning, over a simple drum and guitar riff, she sings, “You’re sure for the first time you’re wearing the right clothes,” and then the whole band kicks in as Haines pauses for a moment before continuing, “Now take them off.”
Perfect deliveries like that are Haines’ forte, and so I was definitely eager to hear what she’d do with complete control over her first solo effort.
I wasn’t disappointed. “Knives” sounds very different from any Metric album I’ve listened to. It’s downbeat, and most of the tracks sound like what you might get if you told Fiona Apple to be more trip-hop and less openly accusatory.
That’s not to say Haines loses any edge with this record, but it’s more personal, honest and downright sad than any of her previous work to date.
On “Our Hell,” the first track off of “Knives,” Haines describes the frustration of having a so-called ideal life, singing, “We’re moderate, we modernize, till our hell is a good life,” over simple, minor-key piano lines and some ancillary violin strokes.
The song ends even more despondently with Haines’ half sung, half whispered admission, “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.” And that’s one of the more musically upbeat tracks.
The album has a decidedly cohesive feel. You’ll never hear more instrumentation than a piano, some sparse drums and a violin or two on most tracks.
The exception is “Mostly Waving,” which features a horn section and is definitely the song most reminiscent of Fiona Apple’s newest album, “Extraordinary Machine.”
But Haines does a lot with a little, and each song, while keeping the same mood as the one that came before it, has a totally different and complete story driving it forward.
My favorite track on “Knives,” titled “Nothing and Nowhere,” actually features nothing but an ever-descending piano line and Haines’ amazing sense of vocal delivery. “Some say life is insane,” she proposes over a space just-then vacated by the piano, which kicks right back in as she counters, “but it isn’t insane on paper.” It’s just like that Metric track, except that it’s ridiculously depressing.
Aside from that, there really isn’t a single track that truly stands out on “Knives,” but on the other hand, I wouldn’t consider any of them to be simply filler.
The album has a great, mellow flow to it. So if you’re not bored by the first two tracks, you’ll probably wind up listening to the entire album without even noticing it. It’s perfect chilling out music, and the subtleties of Emily Haines’ voice are enough to make “Knives” worthy of more than a few cursory listens. Her music is both dark and mercurial, but it also manages to never stray from being completely honest and familiar as well.