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Review of Braids’ ‘Native Speaker’

In Album Reviews, Canada, Celebrate Your Scene, Montréal on January 18, 2011 at 5:18 pm

None of the members of Braids are older than 21. Despite that, they’ve been around so long in the Montréal scene that they almost seem like established grandparents to some of the city’s newer acts. In fact, they are the most tagged band on this very blog. It therefore surprises some to learn that they have not released a full-length album – until now. Native Speaker is the result of several years spent refining their sound, and the results are very, very good.

The album opener, “Lemonade” (click to play/download) , has existed in one form or another for over two years, and has developed along with the band’s abilities. The version of the song on Native Speaker is a testament to how far Braids have come since arriving in Montréal. Every element of production has been tweaked to near-perfection. The hypnotic guitar riff now sounds like it is being played at the bottom of the Caribbean Sea (think warm bubbles floating past a shoal of tropical fish), while Raphaelle Standell-Preston’s vocals have been treated with just enough reverb to soften them up without splaying them all over the track. Even with the pitch-perfect production, however, the vocal melody is a little wearing at times, and the breakdown just before the four-minute mark adds some much-needed warmth to a song that is occasionally easier to admire than to love. Despite this, the song is undoubtedly very well put together, and the perfection of the breakdown and outro will send shivers down your spine.

The next song, “Plath Heart”, displays many of the same qualities as “Lemonade”, but with a great deal more bounce. The production is again stunning and shows an incredible maturity for a debut album. As with “Lemonade,” the vocal melody can be a little repetitive and harsh at times, and again the breakdown towards the finale adds some much-needed warmth to the song. Either way, it is another demonstration that Braids have an exceptional ability to put songs together from seemingly disparate elements, and so any criticisms I offer should always be balanced against the fact that, despite only three of the songs running under 6 minutes, the album is never boring.

The highlight of Native Speaker is undoubtedly the third song, “Glass Deers” (click to play/download).  Like the other songs on the album, the song builds slowly; it is over a minute and 45 seconds before the various oscillating sonic loops give way to the silvery guitar riffs that run throughout the song.  The uncomplicated riff allows the power of Braids’ production to shine. Each chord, each loop, and each tap of a cymbal are so well placed that, combined, they provide a scintillating sonic soundscape for Standell-Preston’s vocals to play over.  And what beautiful vocals they are; Standell-Preston’s is a voice so full of warmth that one begins to imagine all she ever wanted to do was make Montréal winters a little bit more bearable for all of us. On other songs Standell-Preston’s vocal affectations can distract a little from her melodies, but here her playful syllabication of ‘fucked up’ into ‘fucked up, de-cup, de-cup, de-cup, de-cuped’ only adds to the tenderness of the song. Indeed, “Glass Deers” joins only a handful songs which run past the 8 minute mark that leave me achingly disappointed they were so short.

The title track, “Native Speaker”, carries on where ‘Glass Deers’ left off. Delicate splendor is our touchstone phrase here. Standell-Preston’s voice alternates between the fragility showcased on “Glass Deers”, and a loud, passionate yelp. With such a remarkable and powerful singer, it is a small shame that Braids don’t develop the three-chord riff that runs throughout the song into something a little more interesting.

“Lammicken”, “Same Mum”, and “Little Hand” share many of the characteristics with other songs on the album; guitar riffs, crescendo and fall, and are supported by a full range of reverberating clicks and clacks. “Same Mum” is more upbeat than many of the other songs on the album; one of the guitar riffs even has a touch of the Congolese ‘highlife’ about it. “Lammicken” showcases Braids at their most intense, featuring a haunting chord sequence which rolls along throughout the entire song. However, where “Same Mum” is built out of enough different elements to remain captivating throughout, “Lammicken” remains a little too similar, another case of the melody not equaling the glorious production. “Little Hand” has no vocals, but the guitar is just as warm and inviting as “Same Mum”, the song ends the album on an optimistic note.

Generally, Braids have produced an incredibly mature first album. The production and their expert sound layering combine to paint a series of gorgeous sonic landscapes. I can think of few debut albums this polished and refined. Standell-Preston’s voice is also as delicate as it is elastic; it is a joy to listen to. Occasionally however, the band seems to focus too much on technique and control, which comes at the expense of melody or passion. Some of the longer songs can become tiring without any particularly memorable hooks or riffs, and others don’t have enough different ideas to justify their length. That said, on seeing the band live, many of these complaints disappear. The way Braids slowly and delicately build their songs holds their audience in captivated suspense throughout the performance.

Final Verdict:
Braids have produced a beautiful first album, but could occasionally do with a few more ‘tunes’.

File Under:

Animal Collective

 

Native Speaker is out 18th January 2011 on Flemish Eye

-By Steve Eldon Kerr


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  1. […] can check out the homie Steve’s review of the album over at Midday Pro. And head here for details on their Montreal show this […]

  2. […] IS HUGE. This show is basically the-dream. As Steve mentioned in his review of their debut LP, Native Speaker, for which this show celebrates, Braids are our most tagged artist and truly one of my favorite […]

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