[Album Review] Emily Haines & the Soft Skeleton – Choir of the Mind
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Release Date: September 15th, 2017
Label: Last Gang
Like clockwork, once a decade, Emily Haines and the Soft Skeleton appears to remind us that sometimes, sadness is beautiful. In 2006, this was manifested in Knives Don’t Have Your Back, an album that dealt with the torrential grief that comes with losing a parent (in this case, poet Paul Haines). It was raw, it was delicate, it was vulnerable and it was utterly remarkable. Now, Emily Haines and the Soft Skeleton is back with Choir of the Mind, an album that seems to be dealing with the sadness and vulnerability of dealing with one’s experiences over a lifetime.

Memories (and the pain that comes along with reliving them) are a looming theme across the record. On songs like “Nihilist Abyss” or “Minefield of Memory”, Haines is re-living or at least recounting the ways in which memories of the past can be paralyzing to the present (“I’ve been living in a hole / Everybody has to know all the ways I didn’t deal with everything right”). On “Wounded”, she balances the idea of holding on to the pain that helped you grow, while struggling with the authenticity of how we tell ourselves that we’ve grown or changed from a given situation (“Every time I wear this dress /I’m back to the way I was when we met / Every time a little less / I’m not like before, hey that’s what we all say”). On songs like “Perfect on the Surface” and “Strangle All Romance”, she examines the meaning of her own life, whether it’s love or the urge to present an unblemished, “uncracked” outward persona.

Where I find the album particularly stunning is on the songs where she delves into this human (and female) vulnerability, and uses it as a form of strength. She does this to perfection on “Legend of a Wild Horse”, which is an absolutely stunning, layered track that’s the closet this album has to an anthem. The title track, “Choir of the Mind” is the centerpiece of the album in that it looks at failure, (“If I could go back, if I could reach that feeling again / I would not have let shit-talkers stop me”), and combines it with an extended spoken word component, based off an excerpt from Sri Aurobindo’s poem Savitri. The poem looks at femininity as an energy and presence, which fits with the overall theme of the album, and it even incorporates a Rihanna reference.

While Knives Don’t Have Your Back was certainly raw and vulnerable, Choir of the Mind ups the complexity of the arrangements in a way that adequately matches the thematic aims of the album. Haines’ voice is utilized more as an instrument, and really allowed to hit a whole new range we don’t really get to see in Metric (see “Strangle All Romance” where her voice is essentially the only sound on the track). Choir of the Mind is sad, it’s deep, it’s vulnerable and ultimately, it’s a very rewarding listen.