The First Amendment
In which I discuss an artist or album that I had previously overlooked or not paid proper attention to, explaining why I’m really stupid for doing so. Also: Yes, I did change my site’s URL. My name is stupid (for a website) and Wilco lyrics aren’t, so.
Alright, here’s the deal: a little more than a year ago, a band called Braids released their debut studio album, Native Speaker, and it’s really awesome. So awesome, in fact, that I feel as if I need to make an amendment to that little list I compiled in celebration of Listmas 2011 with its addition. This album is good enough to warrant tons of accolades (and it did! here’s one example, and here’s another; just use Google if you want more proof) so, naturally, I feel like I need to throw my pointless opinion on the heap.
As I was browsing through my iTunes library earlier this week, searching for something to play while I read a couple hundred pages of literary theory and criticism, I passed through the “B” section and noticed this little gem sparkling between The Boy Least Likely To and Brian Eno. “Hey!” I thought, “I remember that!” You see, Native Speaker came out way way way back in January of 2011, and an unfortunate byproduct of the Internet is that one calendar year is equal to about five Internet years. Things tend to get forgotten quickly. I tend to forget things quickly. After remembering what it was like in January ’11, I decided to press play and almost instantly was lost in Braids’ world of dreamy pop music, asking myself why I hadn’t had this experience a year earlier.
I first listened to Native Speaker shortly after its release date and remember liking it well enough. “Lemonade,” the album’s first track, was an immediate standout (and still is– listen to it and see for yourself), but even though I liked the record and probably even went around telling people I liked it (“Hey dude, catch that new Braids album? Pretty stellar!”), I failed to listen to it more than three times and ultimately forgot about it by the next week. There are so many reasons why forgetting it that quickly is really wrong, and though I’m inclined to blame it on the state of the current state of the music industry/hype machine that cycles through artists and trends at an alarming rate, I realize how ridiculous it would be to actually say something like that. Instead I’ll just focus on why it’s wrong because of how wonderful the music is and how stupid I am.
For the sake of the rest of this post, I’ll get this out of the way really quickly: They sound like Animal Collective, especially Feels, and that’s caused them to have some detractors, I guess. And while we’re talking similarities, the lead singer’s voice does sound sort of like a combination of Régine Chassagne and Joanna Newsom. The comparisons are well-documented and the band has discussed Animal Collective’s immense influence on them, so I feel like discussing it any further is pointless. However, if noticing a particular artist’s influence on an album bothers you, this one might not be for you. BUT, I’d argue that Braids are more than just an Animal Collective rip-off and are more than deserving of your time. (Really, though, you should just listen for yourself and form your own opinion and then tell me what you think. I’m sure Native Speaker is on Spotify.)
This music is textured, colorful, and dreamy, much like the album cover. Ambient wash bookends several of the tracks, setting the scene for the shimmery and subdued guitars, manic percussion, and evocative vocals. I wouldn’t go so far as to call this album “experimental,” or “avant-pop,” as I’ve seen some others do. It does push the boundaries of pop music, but only ever so slightly, and in such a way that causes you to think “Wow, that was interesting!” and then resume bobbing your head to the inimitable melody. Lead singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston has such an endearing voice– it’s aggressive, emotionally-charged, and earnest, and it often ends up taking center stage amid every other instrument’s near perfect execution. The album’s seven tracks pass by in 44 minutes, but the experience of sitting down and listening to this thing from the first song to the last feels a whole lot longer than that. I’m going to say this knowing full well how absurd it sounds, but this record really is an adventure that begs to be enjoyed in its entirety. Each song works on its own, but when taken together as a whole, Native Speaker is undeniable.
If you want to know more about Braids, check out their Facebook page, or search for them on Spotify, or whatever.
For what it’s worth, I might continue making “amendments” as time goes on, but I probably won’t. I mean, do you know how difficult it is to get these things through Congress?