Wait Till We Get Our Haines on You

Canadians leave me speechless; luckily, a new Radio K comp speaks for itself

I lost my voice. It's almost not worth mentioning. It was an unlovely voice to begin with, perpetually congested-sounding and available in only two frequencies: annoying mumble or accidental near-shout. And I didn't really need it, not because my eyes speak volumes or anything, but because trotting out to shows and typing up one's thoughts are tasks easily completed in silence. But right now my vox loss is coinciding with a get-together of local music trot-and-type types on the long-running radio show Homegrown. Instead of pretending I am Mary Lucia for the evening, I will be writing down lines and forcing Ross Raihala (official Pioneer Press show-goer) to read them over the air in falsetto.

On the upside, when my wounded voice re-emerges, it may temporarily take on the low, husky tone I so envy in the throat of Emily Haines. Haines and her band the Soft Skeleton clear sold out the Varsity Theater last Saturday night. But I don't really envy 2007 Soft Skeleton-era Emily. The Emily Haines to be—the Emily Haines to beat?—is Metric-era Emily Haines. She spent all of 2004 wearing the same outfit, fronting Canadian rebel-popsters Metric in a faded black top and almost-absent miniskirt that left her childlike limbs bare and glowing in the stage light. (I think she had the same costume in white, but the evening version is definitive, having been committed to posterity by a Metric performance within the Olivier Assayas movie Clean.) Haines had a charmingly spastic way of dancing, and carried herself with a self-mocking sophistication. The departure of a lover would leave her complaining, "No one here wants to fight me/Like you do."

Haines seems to have lost her taste for combat. These days, she performs her own songs from behind a vintage electronic piano, her arms and legs covered up and folded away. "You shouldn't watch Fargo when you're in Minneapolis," she observed to the crowd with a sigh. "It's like listening to Steely Dan while poolside in L.A."

Tormented souls from the world of filmmaker Guy Maddin provide a backdrop for the  luminous sadness of Emily Haines
Daniel Corrigan
Tormented souls from the world of filmmaker Guy Maddin provide a backdrop for the luminous sadness of Emily Haines

The energy she used to spend on pep and bounce has been rerouted from her feet into her throat, I suppose. The burnt-sugar hush of her singing comes across with more power and authority than before. But the message is mournful, and there's no more room for nightclubbing in her nihilism. "My baby's got the lonesome lows/Don't quite go away overnight/Doctor Blind just prescribe the blue ones," she crooned wearily.

The gig could have been plodding and unbearably melancholy, but for Haines's singular presence. Her face is three-fourths Beautiful Woman and one-fourth androgynous Easter Island moai, and her charismatic dignity balanced out the dour chords and on-their-last-leg beats of Haines's latest, Knives Don't Have Your Back.

"This goes out to everyone who is totally fucked because they think the past is any different from the present," she said near the end. Maybe dance-floor warrior is just not a persona she has the energy to sell right now.

 

Oddly, Metric is one of the few national acts to be included in the excellent new compilation disc from the University of Minnesota's Radio K. The pre-Current powerhouse is still shackled with a limited broadcasting range, but has outgrown its original label for the collections of in-studio acts: Stuck on AM.

Now they give us SOAM5: Live Performances from Radio K, 19 tracks representing every notable Twin Cities genre, without a dog in the bunch. Standouts include the cheerfully rollicking "Travlin" by alt-rappers Kanser, the tongue-twisting "15 Blocks" spit out by Doomtree's Sims, and the terror of STNNNG as they howl, "I think the rats are winning! I think the rats are winning! I know the rats are winning." Rats.

 
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