Emily Haines is a talented musician and songwriter as her work with the band Metric proves. But her Metric output — literate, straight-out rock — is markedly different from the material on her debut solo release, Knives Don’t Have Your Back, which she recorded with The Soft Skeleton, a group of some of Haines’ favorite musicians.
Haines’ songwriting is top form here, yet musically she leaves Metric behind for something with a sound closer to Death Cab for Cutie. There’s a subdued quality here, with prominent, moody piano present on most of the 11 tracks on Knives. The overcast tone to these songs — and, indeed, Haines’ lyrics — especially prominent on “Dr. Blind,” “Crowd Surf Off a Cliff,” and “Winning” recall the gloom of Death Cab. By the end of the album, though, Haines morphs her style away from the Seattle doom-and-gloom indie favorite and towards something sounding like a tentative Fiona Apple. The herky-jerky piano and drum beat on “Mostly Waving” is the turning point, and, thankfully, she never looks back.
There is a bit of culture shock listening to Knives after being so used to Haines’ work on Metric’s albums Old World Underground and Live It Out. The singer-songwriter laments that make up a great deal of this album don’t suit her. At least, they don’t at first. After a few listens, it’s still difficult to divorce the sound of Haines’ voice from Metric, but the beautiful musicianship becomes more prominent and it’s easier to forgive Haines from moving away from rock and roll.