Accompanying her recent solo album, Emily Haines’ What Is Free to a Good Home? EP is a tranquil homage to her father, poet Paul Haines. Supported by a few of her “favorite musicians”, she sets a handful of his poems to soothing piano and lounge-rock backing tracks. It’s a smooth blend of art and style, as she faithfully pays tribute to a very personal collection of poetry.
Usually the center of attention, Emily Haines does a nice job of focusing the attention on her father’s work, using a somber piano and light arrangements to let her lyrics shine under a soft spotlight. The EP begins with a light brass fanfare introducing “Rowboat” and Emily’s sheered vocals and piano riff enter. The interplay continues while she sings her father’s lines of alienation and confusion (“I’ve been told I’m living a lie/I’ve been told all my life” and “Where else am I/Living alone in my head”). “The Bank” picks up the pace a bit, but stays calm and cool. A loungy drumbeat and jazzy instruments skate along while she sings with breathy restraint. “Telethon” is a openly somber piano ballad in a “Bruised Billy Joel New York state of mind”. “Bottom of the World” is similar, but more of a hopping rhythm. It’s still just a quiet, wafting piano tune though. “Sprig” interjects all sorts of sound effects and echoes her vocals for a far more surreal feeling than the rest of the EP. The “Mostly Waving” remix by todorK is far and away the most musically complex song, with a trippy snare mixed under a metallic swirl interjected by disconnected hip-hop-style vocals.
What Is Free to a Good Home? is a dark, mostly solemn, tribute to Paul Haines’ poetry cast under the light of Emily’s new trademark soft lounge piano sound. The sound and her voice honor his words nicely, as the strong imagery and emotion of those lines contrast well with the velvety music. And aside from that, the EP’s a solid companion to her album, Knives Don’t Have Your Back.