Week 385: “Planets” by Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton

Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton is often referred to as the “solo project” or “side project” of Metric’s lead singer.

But neither of these terms feel right.

A solo project implies a band member who thinks their potential is greater than that of the band as a whole, so they break away, aiming for bigger and better things. Think Michael Jackson. Think Lauryn Hill. Think George Michael.

Meanwhile, a side project carries the connotation of a hobby. A curiosity. An artist exploring a sound that’s far removed from their principal musical outlet. And while Haines’ new album Choir of the Mind certainly sounds different from Metric, her voice is such a part of the Metric sound – her breathy delivery, her biting lyrics, the nasal articulation of her upper range – that it’s hard not to hear the two projects occupying the same neighbourhood.

To me, this feels less like a solo project or a side project, and more like a personal project. This feels like Haines exploring her identity, abandoning the internal filter that she engages when crafting the more tightly structured songs of her group project.

Perhaps that’s why Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton has put out only two albums in the past decade, and why she admitted in a recent interview that Choir of the Mind is self-indulgent. Perhaps that’s why she staged a CBC performance that comes off more like an off-off-Broadway one-woman show than a concert, and why she plans to create a video for each of the album’s 13 songs, all directed by the same person.

Managing a successful brand like Metric must, in some way, take its toll on one’s identity. So maybe this project is her once-per-decade way of making sure she’s still who she thinks she is.

It’s indulgent, but that’s okay: she didn’t make it for you.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The very first sound is the soft wooden clunk of a piano being opened; probably the 19th-century piano she reportedly used to record the album.

2. The multi-tracked vocals are the perfect way to open an album whose title references a choir.

3. In the video, multiple Emily Hainses wander around an empty room, toting a baseball bat while wearing high-heels, a semi-formal dress, and a hoodie. Not a bad metaphor for an identity search.

Recommended listening activity:

Changing your profile picture on every social network you use.

Buy it here.