Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton, Choir Of The Mind
The first solo LP by Metric frontwoman Emily Haines, 2006’s Knives Don’t Have Your Back, is one of my desert-island records, a collection of autumnal chamber-pop that’s not only suited to my favorite time of year, but which was also a key ice-breaker in the relationship that eventually became my marriage. So I was excited when Haines premiered “Fatal Gift” earlier this year, an excitement that turned to hesitancy when the synths and hi-hats kicked in. Was the first Soft Skeleton release in over a decade going to sound like something Haines could’ve recorded under the Metric banner?
I needn’t have worried: “Fatal Gift” is an outlier on Choir Of The Mind, its hypnotic density contrasted by its immediate follower on the track list, the minimalist ballad “Strangle All Romance,” in which the reverb on Haines’ vocals practically drowns out the song’s acoustic-guitar backup. Choir Of The Mind captures that old Knives Don’t Have Your Back spirit and more, its piano-driven compositions given more time and space to sprawl out, the melodic chops honed on Metric’s past few records put to effective use in the fist-pumping chorus of “Legend Of The Wild Horse” and the airy refrain of “Perfect On The Surface.” At the moment, I’m most smitten with the title track, and its poetic, spoken-word interlude (it’s the Haines family business, after all), which uses its eponymous metaphor to describe the creative process in terms that cut me to the quick. (Is it the notion of self-criticism and self-doubt teaming up to sing about the subjects’ failures? Or is it just that these two lines hit too close to home? “She hungers for heights / Passions for the supreme / Hunts for the perfect word / The perfect shape.”) After several days of unseasonable, record-breaking fall temperatures in Chicago, the weather finally bent to fit the mood of Choir Of The Mind this morning. I have a feeling it’s going to be in heavy rotation until at least March, and eventually earn a spot next to its predecessor on the desert-island shelf. [Erik Adams]
George Jones, “He Stopped Loving Her Today”
I’ve been pretty vocal about my enthusiastic appreciation for Mike Judge’s new Tales From The Tour Bus, an animated documentary series about country music greats. It hasn’t aired yet, but there is a two-part episode about country music’s most famous couple that isn’t June and Johnny Cash: George Jones and Tammy Wynette. I knew they had trouble, but I didn’t know that Tammy might have given George food poisoning on purpose or that he was eventually taken away in a straitjacket. Eventually his drinking got so bad that they split up, and Jones’ substance abuse got even worse.
Like all great redemption stories, this one has a great twist at the end: According to Tales, Jones was still in rehab when he started calling the members of his backing band to tell them that he had a song that was going to get them back in the game. Turns out, he was right, and it’s one of the most perfect songs ever recorded, not just in country music, but any genre. “He Stopped Loving Her Today” is a poignant portrait of a man whose unrequited love can only be stopped by death. It’s amazingly heartfelt; Sinatra himself could only dream of Jones’ emotionality. The song is so tied to Jones that even after his death, very few people have dared to cover it. Except, of course, at his own funeral, when he pretty much became the subject of his most famous song. [Gwen Ihnat]
The Cool Kids, “Jean Jacket”
It wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that I moved to Chicago, in part, because of The Cool Kids. A decade ago, their blend of bass-heavy throw-back rap and goofy, internet-savvy verses about pagers and basketball punched my pleasure center so aggressively that, casting about for a nearby metropolis to call my home after college, the city attained a sort of glow in my mind. For awhile, the move paid off: You could see the duo every couple months, at festivals and street parties and packed, midweek shows that you could only go to if you didn’t have to wake up early, or at all, the next morning. Chuck Inglish and Mikey Rocks continued their upward swing throughout the latter half of the decade, showing up on Nike commercials and rapping alongside Weezy, releasing mixtapes of surprisingly high quality (shout out to Tacklebox), but never quite breaking through to the next level of popularity. When I came across Mikey’s (excellent) Banco solo LP a couple years ago, it was almost a surprise to see the name again.
But, anyway, they’re back with Special Edition Grandmaster Deluxe, their first record in six years, and they’re funnier, better rappers, with a less tightly conscripted sonic palette. The album tries on a bunch of different styles, but in the back half settles into the sun-kissed ride-around music that they toyed with on their mixtapes. The disco jam “Jean Jacket” is the duo at their most effervescent—perfect for this stretch of warm fall weather—showcasing their smart, minimalistic production at its breeziest. It’s good to hear from them again; here’s hoping they stick around for awhile. [Clayton Purdom]