Braids — Native Speaker 

Because no new trends have appeared at all in 2011 so far, I was getting kinda worried that I was going to be stuck listen to trashy, lo-fi garage rock and pristine folk all year. Thankfully, Braids’ “Native Speaker” crossed my desk, and I’m feeling a bit more calm.

Even if they don’t spark a boatload of imitators (and I hope they do), it’s comforting to know that people are still trying to put sounds together in new ways. “Native Speaker” is an album that fuses the vaguely optimistic, digital-created moods of chillwave to the full-band power of indie rock and the cinematic scope of post-rock. The chillwave and post-rock counterbalance each other, allowing Braids to skip the worst excesses of both. The fact that there are real people hitting and strumming things gives the resulting tunes an infectious propulsion. The resulting sound is unlike anything I’ve ever heard.

Speaking of infections, all the indie kids are gonna get cooties if they get as close as they’ll want to be to Raphaelle Standell-Preston. Her fascinating voice commands attention, whether being used as the basis of a tune (the title track), as a rhythmic device (the astounding “Glass Deers”) or as a plain-old melodic vocalist (the cascading beauty of “Lemonade”). Her performances are a highlight and perhaps even the focal point of the album (depending on your perspective).

The tunes here are all remarkable in that they manage to appropriate a relaxed mood without losing any precision whatsoever. The aforementioned “Lemonade” features an intricate rhythm on drum rims, bass drum and tapped cymbals. Intricate guitar work and quick-paced keyboard runs accent the tune. But somehow, it’s still music will create blissful dreams after you fall asleep to it.

Also worth noting are the song lengths; in what can only be a statement of “attention span is the new black,” the seven songs of “Native Speaker” run just under 44 minutes. That’s a true average of six minutes per track (there are no 20-minute outliers to pull the average up). As a person who has mourned the commoditization and increasingly short lifespan of music, it’s nice to see a band committed to crafting tunes that require more than passing effort to enjoy.  

Each of these tracks have their own joys to reveal, but I’m especially fond of “Glass Deers.” At a bit over eight minutes, it leisurely unfolds, letting its pieces casually sidle in before locking in around the time you wish they would. It’s just beautiful songwriting from people who know their skills.

Here’s to Braids. Best album of the year so far.  —Stephen Carradini

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