"I KIND OF APPROACHED it more like making a film than being a band," Emily Haines says. Haines has been the singer and keyboardist for kickass Canadian rock band Metric for nine years, but here she's referring to her solo album, Knives Don't Have Your Back. "I sort of started writing with the idea of creating this particular sound, and having these themes running through it—of being kind of disoriented, and trying to navigate an increasingly confusing world."
Metric's easy to sum up: loud, fun, sharp, clear pop rock. Knives is trickier: Stark and intimate, the focus here is on Haines, her voice, and her skillfully crafted words—which function as well as quasi-abstract short stories as they do as lyrics. But Haines recoils when I suggest that, unlike Metric's albums, Knives is all about her. "You think so?" she asks. "I disagree, actually. A lot of people collaborated on it with me. For me, it feels very much like I orchestrated something that includes a lot of people. So I feel more l ike a composer. It's more about creating a song, creating a mood, than having a lot of focus on me." If the composer analogy is appropriate, maybe that of a director is even more so: Haines describes Knives as "a soundtrack to an imaginary movie," and when she plays the Doug Fir on Friday, her songs will be accompanied with projections from the films of director Guy Maddin.
But that mood Haines has composed/directed is what makes her piano-driven album so remarkable. "We're moderate, we modernize/'til our hell is a good life/all we know is what to forget," she sings over a deep, regular drum on the album's opener, "Our Hell." There's a pragmatic, unavoidable melancholy throughout, but there's also a wryness and awareness that keeps the album hopeful, even oddly beautiful: "With all the luck you've had/why are your songs so sad?" she asks on "Reading in Bed." "You sing from a book you were reading in bed/and took to heart all of your lives unled."