Emily Haines & the Soft Skeleton is the solo project of popular Canadian singer/songwriter Emily Haines. She is more commonly known as the lead singer of Metric, an indie rock band formed in Toronto in 1998, and a Canadian music staple. They often make appearances at major Canadian music festivals, and play national events such as the live Canada Day celebrations in Ottawa.
In 2006, Haines took some time off from Metric to produce her solo project’s first album Knives Don’t Have Your Back. While this was not the first time Haines had released solo music, this album marked the birth of Emily Haines and the Soft Skeleton, under which she has released all of her solo work since. The album appealed to both seasoned Metric fans and newcomers alike, as its style can easily be compared to other Metric albums. However, in her solo work, Haines opts out of catchy guitar riffs, and instead favours acoustic piano melodies. The album was never toured officially, nor did it receive a lot of media attention until long after its release. However, several small shows did take place over the years.
Choir of the Mind is Haines’ latest creation. This is the first full album we have seen from Haines’ side project since its initial debut in 2006. Song titles such as “Minefield of Memory,” “Perfect on the Surface,” and “Choir of the Mind” speak volumes about the album’s theme of mental health, as opposed to the socio-political themes in Knives Don’t Have Your Back. Haines names any and all contributors in today’s society that negatively affect our minds, such as consumer culture and unhealthy relationships. She also mentions the effects of fame on her life in the song “Siren,” with the lyric, “I only wanted to be known.” Haines has hinted at her distaste for fame before. A prime example exists in the song “Blindness,” off the Metric album Fantasies. In this song, she states, “I wanna’ leave but the world won’t let me go.” This may explain the manner in which she has chosen to perform this album.
On September 18, CBC Music posted a video on YouTube of one of Haines’ live performances for Choir of the Mind. To create a more personal atmosphere, the audience was kept smaller than 100 people, and was held at Crow’s Theatre in Toronto, rather than a large stadium or commercial music venue. The smaller space allowed for a more personal and relaxed relationship between Haines and her audience. The show is presented more like a play than a concert. In between songs, Haines rises from her piano to interact with different lighting cues and props that have been set up around the stage. Spoken word poetry fills the space during these transitions, both spoken live by Haines, and pre-recorded. The words seem to represent Haines’ innermost destructive thoughts about herself. Her own voice mocks her, calling her a child, unorganized, always late, a drunk, and many other insults. However, just after halfway through, the performance makes a distinct shift. Haines suddenly blows out various candles onstage, packs a backpack, and follows a path of light made to look like a road. From this point on, the songs shed their depressive theme, and instead take on a painfully honest, but uplifting tone.
There are no more skeletons left in this woman’s closet. In this album, Haines bares all when it comes to her battles with depression and self-worth. She tells us the tale of her darkest hours, and how she has chosen to overcome them. What is interesting is that she has not chosen to leave her emotions in the past. Instead, she no longer feels shame in feeling them, and uses these feelings to drive her forward, fueling her creative spirit and desire to do better for herself. This is a message many young people need to see; that the road to better mental health is not easy, but it is do-able.