(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Friday, February 11, 2011

CD review - BRAIDS, Native Speaker (2011)

Native Speaker is full of loopy arpeggios, echo-stretched vocals, and hazy swells of sound. Dreamy and experimental, BRAIDS' debut album mines some of the same space worked by Animal Collective or Freelance Whales. What sets them apart is the way their songs channel a sense of subconscious space. Call it id pop.

Loops and tonal washes set an ambient background, while the foreground vocals tend to avoid linear focus. Instead, the voices overlap and compete, offering different views. Some contribute only a primal sense. The title track, Native Speaker, follows this pattern. The intro is reflective with a lazy tidal feel. Under this surface, subtle sounds rise to grab your ear before sinking again. A single voice comes forward, but weaves in and out of other voices: a shimmery chorus, a childlike interjection, swirling whispers, glitchy stutters. The sonic mix reacts to each bit of lyric. While there's not quite a linear flow, there is a kind of consistency; it's a roiling subconscious melange that eventually resolves into acceptance. "It's fine."

Native Speaker has plenty of pop touches -- nice beats, Raphaelle Standell-Preston's strong vocals, shimmery synths and guitars -- but the structures are repetitive and experimental, ignoring verse-chorus structure. Between Standell-Preston's offbeat lyrical phrasing and their interesting use of backing vocals, BRAIDS focuses more strongly on vocals than any other part of their sound.

Plath Heart sets up a shimmery beat, but it's the galloping lyrics that grab:
There's no loving after all this crap that we've been through
I'm not coming back to you.
The musical fills in the background offer a counterpoint stagger rhythm to the vocals. In contrast to the ambient sound of Native Speaker, Plath Heart ticks along with a smug, poppy drive.

Native Speaker is a good first album, showing off BRAIDS' quirky sensibilities. They've already gotten a lot of alt-press, but I'm more interested in seeing which direction BRAIDS will choose to explore next. In the meantime, I'm thinking mint Juleps are in order.