Braids – Native Speaker

written by: January 26, 2011
Release Date: January 18, 2010


Upcoming talents Braids’ full-length debut features seven experimental pop tracks guaranteed to intrigue. Native Speaker is most definitely the resultant of listening to Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion and, even more so, Feels.

Although they wear this influence on both sleeves, Braids is far more than just AC with female vocals. Their sound is driven by live guitars and percussion with plenty of added effects and layers.

Peering through the dense mass of sound are the wonderfully quirky and melodic vocals of Raphaelle Standell-Preston (also from Blue Hawaii). Sometimes she emulates the weirdness of Avey Tare, but her lyrics are far less bizarre. She can evoke the work of Marnie Stern or Björk, but she also has a light, pretty timbre closer to the indie pop singers.

Opener “Lemonade” calls upon the spirit of Avey Tare and Panda Bear. The intro recalls “In the Flowers,” a delicate guitar line with delay peers through and a tribal drum beat kicks in along with Raph’s  instantly captivating vocals. It’s not long until Braids turn the attention away from the standout influences and onto the wealth of texture and melody they can provide.

Braids give a lot of space for the songs to breathe. Songs are constructed and deconstructed slowly.

Although each track has plenty of beauty and verve, the tracks end up meandering more than they should. To pull another Animal Collective reference, a lot of these tracks do what they did on “Daily Routine.” However, instead of being a one-time, cascading coda of shimmering splendor, it’s a reoccurring procedure that lags. For example, “Glass Deers” takes more than a minute and a half to start developing into something tangible, and even when the vocals and instrumentation kick in it takes almost another minute to get going. When it gets going it is really nice; it’s just a shame it takes so long to get there. A similar thing happens in the following number, the title track. Due to such languid development, both tracks reach the eight-minute mark when they could have easily fit into six.

After paying homage to their idols and wandering about, the group really comes into their own in the final three tracks. “Lammicken” takes Raph’s Björkian wail to a whole other level atop a swirling maelstrom of sound; “Same Mum” is an up-tempo number with a guitar riff that would have fit right in on Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest, at once playful and gorgeous; and the album closes with instrumental number “Little Hand” which does the slow build technique in a much more practical and satisfying way. As the track slowly builds to a mild climax point, the immediately memorable guitar line and wash of sound surround the listener for a short while and lay them down gently. The satisfaction from these tracks attest to the potential of this band and the likelihood of future success.

Native Speaker is definitely the album we should be discovering after first being blown away by their sophomore record—something like Grizzly Bear’s Horn of Plenty, only this one is better. Fortunately, this says more about the quality of their future efforts than the lack of quality of this one. It’s still a strong record, but there is noticeable room for development. Nevertheless, the hype is there now and Braids will probably see some present critical and commercial success.