The Hypnotic Allure of Braids
Published in Blog Archive, Culture Bully. Tags: Canada, Music.
Hype can be a funny thing sometimes, especially in terms of music. It can lead to exaggerated slants on bands that might not be entirely grounded in reality, but it can also help shed light on artists who might otherwise not have been given the time of day. “Braids are by no means a sure bet. But the payoff could be huge,” writes Jeremy Morris in the National Post’s “Music writers on the Canadian bands they’d invest in” article. Sure, the idea of “investing” in a band is more than a tad preposterous, but the inclusion of Braids in such a list is not.
Joining together in Calgary as the Neighborhood Council in 2007, the band quickly drew attention—both by winning the youth category of the 2007 Calgary Folk Music Festival’s songwriting competition, and in releasing its first EP, Set Pieces. Within the group’s first year together Stereogum perked its ears up and showcased the EP’s opening track, “Liver and Tan.” “It’s a nine-minute piece of pop that would’ve made sense next to the Ropers on a split Slumberland 7″, but with some of that early Pacific Northewest sound, like what you might expect from the Softies, only on a more shoe-gaze tip with gentler dueling Excuse 17-style harmonies, nice ride patterns, breezy ‘oh’s for color.” Though the relation to any Pacific Northwest sound might be a bit of a stretch, it’s hard to argue that the song isn’t fantastic. “Liver and Tan” is a prime example of the band’s self described “texture pop,” instead of coming apart at the seams it exudes patience as it slowly unravels. Manipulating repetitious chords and lyrics, the track fails to become tedious despite its length, settling in at a natural place before fading away after nearly 10 minutes.
While in the process of releasing the band’s second EP, once again recorded at the University of Calgary’s CJSW radio station, the group made the decision to make the move to Montreal, a process which accompanied the band’s name change from the Neighborhood Council to Braids. In an interview with AWMusic, vocalist/guitarist Raphaelle Standell-Preston explained the transition, “Well we changed our name to Braids, not because we didn’t like it, but because we changed entirely musically, right? So back then the Neighborhood Council was, when Stereogum wrote, I feel good about it, I don’t regret that they didn’t write about us now.” But they did.
Last month the site featured a follow up article highlighting Braids’ full-length debut, the self-produced Native Speaker. “This time it’s Velocity Girl who keep surfacing amid the piano, guitars, extended pulsations, and ambient breaks and builds. They’re still not afraid to let things flow—a couple of the album’s seven tracks are above eight minutes, two are above five, and none dip below four and a half.” In a recent interview with Lookout discussion eventually turned towards the new album, further revealing influences that affected its direction. “I think Animal Collective was huge for us last year, definitely. It changed the way we think about how to make music, for sure.” This influence is no more evident than with “Lemonade,” a track which finds itself mimicking moments from last year’s phenomenal Merriweather Post Pavilion; almost to a fault, actually. Allowing the song to flow through its near-seven minutes of peaks and troughs however, “Lemonade” is far more than an explicit gesture at an influence, but a hypnotic blend of sounds that blankets the band’s continuing process of finding “its sound.”
Chromewaves commented on both “Lemonade” and “Liver and Tan” in a precursor to a review of Braids’ recent show opening for Holly Miranda at Toronto’s El Mocambo, “Both are fine balancing acts between aural experimentation and pop smarts, where complex vocal and guitar arrangements still resolve into hooks and however far they meander, they don’t lose sight of the melody.” But the live performance failed to translate the same energy as the band’s recordings, “If these songs—which I believe bookended their set—were representative of everything in between, then I’d happily be adding my voice to the chorus of praise. Unfortunately, much of what else went on sounded like the above description but without the pop element—there was plenty of impressive musicianship and four-part vocal chorals, but little in the way of structure.”
Despite having a few years of history together, with ages ranging from 19 to 21 Braids is still a band early on in the development of its sound and direction. Putting any glaring comparisons aside, its progression is an interesting one, and if the group of young musicians continues to sharpen their direction and focus on developing further as performers, Braids could very well fall into line with some of Montreal’s finest. As silly as the angle of the National Post’s article is, I’m hard-pressed not suggest investing some serious time with the band. After all, “the payoff could be huge.”