Album Review: BRAIDS – Native Speaker

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The members of experimental psych outfit Braids hail from Montreal, and they join a recent wave of Canadian indie musicians (His Clancyness, Blue Hawaii, Destroyer) exploring the layered nuances of dream pop. And “nuance” is a good word to describe the group’s debut LP Native Speaker; there’s a lot going on in these songs, but they never threaten to overwhelm the listener.

Opener “Lemonade,” for instance, beings with the sound of running water and a distant birdcall, providing a natural (almost mystical) setting for the skittering guitar and slowly oscillating strings that come to dominate the track.

It is the first of several six-minute-plus songs that develop slowly but surely, carefully unraveling its melody without sacrificing listenability. Lead singer Raphaelle Strandell-Preston (also a member of Blue Hawaii)—whose voice shifts from breathy calm to Fever Ray levels of yelped intensity—mentions “dragons” that want to “Smoke and have some good fun,” providing a fitting metaphor for the album’s sound.

Even in its loudest, most zealous moments, Native Speaker never loses control of its floating rhythms or synth embellishments. On “Glass Deers,” fragile music box notes accompany Strandell-Preston’s relief that she has “Found my place in the wishing well/I found my place, now I’m feeling well.” But her tranquility is short-lived, and by the end of the song she’s whooping and hollering like Avey Tare; the music keeps pace, feedback-heavy guitars and heavy cymbal clashes matching her intensity. By the end of the eight-minute epic, the music has calmed down and the album’s ebb and flow has been restored.

Despite these varying musical moods, Braids maintains a patience and confidence uncommon in debut efforts. The title track exemplifies this well; a quietly looping synth line keeps time while echoing pianos and vocal harmonies appear in a flash before fading back into the ether. “My, my, my, my, my…it feels good,” Strandett-Preston sings as a timpani drum bangs its approval and what sounds like a spaceship takes off with an eighties movie’s sci-fi exuberance.

Braids decorates its simple, gorgeous melodies with these kinds of instrumental and synth effects, and the result is a coherent album that never grows tedious or forced. The details on display—from the submerged beat of “Lammicken” to the beeps and boops of closer “Little Hand”—all sound remarkably organic, never tacked on or used to cover up insufficient songwriting.

That’s not to say that Native Speaker is perfect; at times, it sounds aimless, and a couple of tracks could have been shortened by a minute or two without losing their effect. But this is by and large a wildly imaginative effort from a band that makes dream pop sound endearingly lucid. Braids speak their own musical language, but the sheer joy with which they recorded this album is clear.

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