Review : The Braids - Native Speaker
PitchforkThere are dreams, there are nightmares, and then there are those night visions that don't quite qualify as either, the unnerving images and dialogues that rattle about your head in your waking life for the rest of the day and reveal strange, forgotten details every time you pick at them. That's the kind of stuff we need to be talking about if we're going to call Braids "dream-pop" as so many others have. The quartet's bracing debut Native Speaker is almost Inception-like in its warping of reality, equally tactile and dissolute, cerebral and surreal and ultimately haunting for its refusal to answer questions the same way twice.
The Montreal group is constructed like your typical indie rock outfit-- keyboards, guitar, bass, drums, all parties contributing vocals-- but each element is employed in a way that embodies the best ideals of post-rock, where each member coaxes sound like they're trying to learn something new about their instruments at each turn. The same exploratory nature applies to structure-- Native Speaker's seven roomy compositions (ranging from four to over eight minutes) rely heavily on loops and drones, pinwheels of guitar, and clusters of bell tones. There's constant motion, each layer pushing and prodding until they prop each other into something like stasis, its minimalist bent never drawing too much attention to how it's working really hard.
The loop that drives "Lemonade" reads like an EKG, dipping and rising steadfastly as the rhythm section builds a limber, athletic pace and introduces Raphaelle Standell-Preston's intriguing and idiosyncratic vocals. She's not without precedent: tonally there's some Régine Chassage in her higher register, and her knack for knocking the listener off course with well-placed vulgarity recalls prime-era Jenny Lewis. But the loopy, playful interaction of her and the strange, gripping placidity of Native Speaker feels like something all its own. She's demure as "Lemonade" begins but gets more and more unhinged as Braids hurtle forward. Despite the bizarre imagery she sets forth, the song is ultimately an impressionistic commentary on suburban romantic prospects-- "what I've found is that we're all just sleeping around."
As Native Speaker truly starts to take shape toward its midsection, you can hear them disassembling "Lemonade" only to rebuild each aspect of it into longer forms. It's no discredit to the band that it eases into the record's biggest sounding moments, while amidst the catharsis the vocals do the heavy lifting. "Glass Deers" plays it as straight as it gets on Native Speaker: the closest they come to typical strumming and clean guitar lines, while Standell-Preston recalls fellow deconstructionist Sue Tompkins (Life Without Buildings), repeating "I'm fucked up" for as much of a percussive effect as an emotional one. Coasting on volume swells and whirring sound effects, the title track finds a point where Braids capture a woozy warmth not far removed from a more tactile take on Animal Collective circa Feels. But within what could scan like post-coital calm, the lyrics drop their often coy logic puzzles for about as straightforward of a cry for sexual need and desire as you'll hear in indie rock....full text
SputnikmusicMontreal avant-pop quartet Braids’ debut album “Native Speaker” is more or less the aural equivalent of watching clouds. Sometimes vague images will take form, but more often than not, you’re left staring at something light and fluffy and lacking of substance when needed. Mixing organic and synthetic sounds seamlessly, Braids will easily draw comparisons to “Feels” era Animal Collective, albeit, as a less magical incarnation. Where “Feels” had a sort of pulsating and untamed energy, “Native Speaker” enjoys teasing the listener by never allowing its songs to enter full out charges or anthemic stomps. Instead, structure is very loose as the band takes up free reign to explore slow burning psychedelic manipulations. Most of the time they’re struggling to keep their heads above the waves of tribal drumming, twinkling synth, and ambient swells. It’s only through the performance of airy female vocalist Raphaelle Standell-Preston that they stay afloat.
One moment twee and fairy like, while on the next, powerful and belting, Standell-Preston is simply breathtaking as she digs out trenches of emotional depth akin to that of Icelandic singer Bjork. Accompanied by a ghostly choir of distant harmonies, the vocals on “Native Speaker” easily make for the album’s most memorable passages. The heavily arpeggiated swell of “Lemonade” and the swagger of the pseudo-dance number “Plath Heart” starts the album off beautifully, though beyond these two tracks, patience will be tested. The majority of "Native Speaker” is very sedative, as one is left waiting for the interweaving streams of sound to eventually form into something. While this method does work well enough on the soupy and strung out “Glass Dears”, and the slow caustic build of “Lammicken”, you’ll often find yourself grasping for something more striking in these compositions.
The title track, akin to one big and drawn out yawn, is a perfect example of the painfully lax nature of this album. And while the bubbly “Same Mum” and jazzy instrumental “Little Hand” are enjoyable enough, neither leave much of an impression once the last seconds of the songs run dry. There simply isn’t any prioritizing over which moments are allowed to collect in pensive thought, and which come together consciously into palpable melodies. Like gathering thunder storms, the breezy guitar lines, rolling drum fills, and spacey keyboards eventually all build into a shimmering and thick atmosphere; sometimes too late to make much of a difference....full text
CmjComplete with complex layers, penetrating vocals and tracks over seven minutes, Native Speaker seems more like the product of a well-seasoned group rather than four people making their first impression on the music world. The album reflects the youth of Braids, as its sound is hopeful and perpetually moving toward the future.
Forming after high school in Calgary, Alberta, the four members of Braids moved to Montreal to record and produce their debut album. Not settling for anything less than their vision, Native Speaker’s tracks are intentionally lengthy, allowing the band to build upon the layers on which the album’s pieces are founded.
The songs on the seven-track LP generally start simple, and then add more instruments and rhythms as the songs progress. The vocals provide interesting contrasts, from blending into the supporting music (particularly when lead singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston curses), to piercing it with a powerful scream. The steady, driving beat and motion of each song propels Native Speaker forward with instruments and vocals that swell together to create a larger-than-life sound. Each track also stands separately to form a contrast, always leaving the listener with a feeling of resolution at the end of each phrase....full text
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