Emily Haines and the Soft Skeleton – What Is Free To A Good Home?

Rating: 3.5/5
Released: July 24, 2007
Reviewer: David Coats

In the fall of 2006, Emily Haines, one of Canada’s best vocal talents and emerging songwriters, released her debut solo effort, Knives Don’t Have Your Back. Featuring prominent musical contributions from members of Haines’ bands, Metric and Broken Social Scene, Knives was a record underrated by many fans and critics; each song was constructed and performed on sombre piano, and the final product was largely considered musically uninviting, even though lyrically it was one of the most inviting – if challenging – records of the year. What Is Free To A Good Home? is a companion EP of b-sides from the Knives sessions.

Opening with a mournful horn arrangement, ‘Rowboat’ picks up where Knives left off, as Haines sings introspectively over what could have been Knives’ most musically upbeat accompaniment. Haines’ vocals sound surprisingly weak on ‘The Bank,’ though its jazz horns and drums are a welcome departure from the starkness of Knives’ material. ‘Telethon’ is the best song of this package, featuring just Haines at her piano, at her most intimate, confident, and lyrically poetic, as she sings about being in a ‘bruised- Billy Joel-New York state of mind.’ Haines also includes ‘Sprig,’ a poem written by her late father, Paul Haines, which she sets to music. Its space and expertly-mixed layers of unorthodox sounds give it a sense of adventure.

Ultimately, some songs would have been better included on Knives, if only to add some variety; however, upon listening to What Is Free…?, it becomes clear that, while these songs are certainly good, the best ones made it onto Knives. At a mere six songs, What Is Free…? is difficult to really evaluate on its own, but it will reinforce the quality of the original for those who liked it, and hopefully motivate those who didn’t to reconsider.

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