Emily Haines is best known as the voice of Metric and some Broken Social Scene, but she's not as well-known for her solo work, as Emily Haines & the Soft Skeleton. "What Is Free to a Good Home?" shows her maturation as an artist -- it's indie pop with jazz sensibilities, and a greater feeling of maturity than either of her solo albums.
It opens with a gentle horn solo, and gets joined by a trickling piano melody. "I've been told I'm living a lie/I've been told all my life," Haines croons. "Getting it wrong almost every time/Where else, where else am I?/Living alone in my head... Rowboat left in the rain/Drifting out on the lake/Where could my one love be?"
It's followed by the catchier, piano-driven "Bank" and a pair of mournful little ballads ("When the daylight's like flourescent lights/i'm going to take my time night by night/I hang my hands over your eyes to hide"). Rounding off the EP is "Sprig," a weirdly breathy, on-and-off little pop song, and finally a slow jazz-funky remix of "Mostly Waving."
"What Is Free to a Good Home?" is probably the most solid work that Haines has done in her solo career -- it's short, but doesn't really have a dud on it. Okay, "Sprig" fits in like a square peg, but it's an experimental oasis in an EP crammed with slow, smooth pop flavoured with jazz.
Most of the instrumentation is Haines playing the piano, which she does pretty uniformly in a smooth, mellow manner, backed by some jazzy drums and a wall of mellow brass, which always sound like they're being played at a funeral. And occasionally some synth in "Sprig," which has some subtle, UFO-landing sound effects woven in. And wind chimes.
But the star of all this is Haines' voice -- smooth, girlish and weary, like a disenchanted lover who's watching the rain. The songs she sings back up this feeling, with deceptively simple lyrics ("So quiet, they could hear each other's thinking, denying/Garner interest, each other's thinking, denying..."), full of melancholy, love and the cruelty of others ("What did I do? Why didn't I get into your cool crew?").
"What Is Free to a Good Home?" shows Haines' further maturation as a musician and songwriter, and builds on her solid-but-not-quite-great full-length albums. Definitely a must-buy.