BRAIDS – A Return To Form?

To this day, BRAIDS‘ 2011 debut “Native Speaker” remains nothing short of extraordinary. The album ranges from tender and minimal to loud and crass, sometimes within a single song. The tracks are layered with complex drumming patterns and guitar riffs that melt together with electronics to create a uniquely hazy and ambient soundscape. At the forefront is Raphaelle Standell-Preston, whose vocal gymnastics have justly been compared to those of Icelandic pop legend Björk. Now, four years later, how are they holding up?

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In the spring of this year, we saw the release of their third album Deep In The Iris. It has received praise for being a slight return to form, after their more electronic and minimal second full length release Flourish // Perish. It’s BRAIDS’ first album to be recorded outside of Canada, seeing as the band felt that they needed to clear their heads after months of recording Flourish // Perish in a windowless garage in Montreal. The album was recorded in various remote spots across the US, including a cabin in the desert of Arizona.

This new adventurous approach to the writing and recording process has clearly had an influence on the band’s overall sound, though not as much as you might think. It is indeed refreshing to hear them using more live instruments again in songs such as “Taste” or “Warm Like Summer,” but the magic of their first release hasn’t entirely been recaptured for me. Many of the songs on Deep in the Iris were written around the same time as those on Flourish // Perish, and this still shows clear as the band still relies more on electronics than I would like. Nevertheless, I do agree with the band’s own statement in an interview with HungerTV that this album is more “uplifting, cathartic, and aggressive” than the previous one. If I had to choose three words to describe what I liked about BRAIDS, it would probably be those!

A key element that has always remained consistent in all of BRAIDS’ music are Raphaelle’s vocals. She continues to use her voice in unexpected ways, and the crass honesty of her lyrics is always refreshing. Deep in the Iris has been greatly sold on the fact that it is their most lyrically explicit release to date. Its subject matters are darker and more topical than the band’s previous releases. This is most noticeable in their single “Miniskirt,” which is perhaps also the most aggressive and cathartic track on the album. (“I’m not a man hater / I enjoy them like cake / But in my position I’m the slut / I’m the bitch / I’m the whore / The one you hate”) As always, Raphaelle is not afraid to swear or be sexually explicit, so it’s great to hear her take the issue of rape culture and slut shaming head on.

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For me, BRAIDS’s latest two releases haven’t been as gripping as Native Speaker (the ultimate highpoint being the song “Glass Deers”). Songs like Miniskirt are still a clear indicator that they are capable of great things, and I hope they’ll continue to build on this in their next release.