Montreal three-piece Braids have been honing their organic-electronic sound since 2011’s debut album ‘Native Speaker’.
Formed in 2007, they have solidified a decade-long reputation and established themselves as one of Canada’s most acclaimed art rock bands.
On fourth album ‘Shadow Offering’ they take things to a whole new level.
It’s luscious, cinematic and drenched in heartbreak, with singer and lyricist Raphaelle Standell-Preston digging deeper than ever into dark emotions and struggles. The album recounts pain, heartbreak, anger, but always shifts from the dark into the light.
“There’s more hopefulness in this record than anything else I’ve written,” Standell-Preston says. “I think the songs are more human, more tangible, more honest.”
Sonically, the band have moved away from pure electronica on this album and their early, Animal Collective-inspired synthscapes. In their early work, guitars were manipulated until they were unrecognisable, a haze of shoegaze dreaminess of which My Bloody Valentine legend Kevin Shields himself would surely have been proud, mixed with pulsing electronics and rhythms to produce something close to Krautrock.
On ‘Shadow Offering’, and with Death Cab For Cuties guitarist Chris Walla on production duties, guitars are more centre stage. A straight-down-the-line guitar album it’s not. It’s still electro. It’s alt pop. But a frantic guitar propels ‘Snow Angel’, unleashing a vocal performance from Standell-Preston that’s startling even by her standards.
‘Snow Angel’ was written in 2016 in the shadow of the election of Donald Trump. It’s spikily political and so relevant in light of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Am I only just realising the injustice that exists?” she asks herself, “cloaked in white privilege since the day I was born. Blinders on. Blinders on… Whole world’s going to shit. This white girl contributes to it.”
What a voice she has. On ‘Young Buck’ – a tale of self-destruction and numbing – she manages to out-Gaga Gaga. Over the course of the album’s nine tracks she invokes the spirit of Bjork, Massive Attack’s Liz Fraser, Kate Bush and more. Her vocals give everything Braids do an icy, imperious alt pop majesty.
On ‘Just Let Me’ – the heart and soul of ‘Shadow Offering’ – Standell-Preston reflects on her relationship going wrong against two interlocking, chiming guitars and soaring key changes.
“While writing this song,” she posted on the Braids Instagram, “I recall feeling far away from my partner, our silence louder than shouting words, wondering, ‘How can I get through to you?’.” That’s the refrain in the song – ‘Just let me, let me get through to you’. Standell-Preston directed the video for ‘Just Let Me’, featuring incredible performances from dancers Stephen Quinlan and Justin De Luna as they embody the “physical and emotional elements that stand in the way of our ability to love and be loved”. It’s stunning.
‘Eclipse (Ashley)’ is another highlight, a song dedicated to Standell-Preston’s best friend that sinks deep into a feeling of reverie for nature, the love found in friendship, and the vital essence of personal reflection.
‘Shadow Offering’ is Braids’ strongest album yet. It’s Braids at their most confident, their most daring.
Braids are touring the UK in November, including dates in Liverpool, Manchester and Leicester. Full details at www.braidsmusic.com