Albums that manage to just barely escape the flavour-of-the-week sound are ones that are special. Not only because they infect you, but also due to their ability to bring at least one novel thing onto the table. Calgary-based Indie Rock trio Braids manages to escape flavour of the week by throwing their Deep in the Iris onto a table and watching the wooden legs break under the pressure of its creative loudness. The band accomplishes the feat of sounding like Björk mixed with Tegan and Sara, as well as a little bit of Grimes, not just in vocalization, but in overall sound. Pursuing many artistic directions with this third record, the band balances the pop sentimentality, commonly found in radio-friendly Ellie Goulding jams, and an artsy-fartsy rock style that fans of Jenny Hval crave.
When singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston sings, it is not her voice that captures our ears for the first half of this album–it is how she manipulates her voice in binaural fashion that makes our ears properly attuned to the sonic barrage the band brings together. “Blondie” is a perfect example of her taking advantage of effects to manipulate how listeners take in her falsettos and long-winded words. Even the synths on the track have a misty texture that drenches us. “Happy When” is another track that keeps us entertained. Using a falsetto, Raphaelle first creates a welcome intimacy that quickly transforms into a Holly Herndon-inspired art singing. The song’s almost casual lyrics is in contrast to the post-rock sound that the piano and guitars attempt to emulate. The final third of the track posits imagery of bloody knees, yet with an underlying melody that makes everything seem romanticized.
In its most artistic form, BRAIDS throws a lyrical curve-ball with “Miniskirt,” opting to sound like a ravenous spoken word piece about consent. The dissonant and atonal synths allow the clean vocals to have its scary substance. Halfway in is a change of pace with wonky notes and an out-of-control singer speaking about Canada as if it were another planet. Deep inside we feel Raphaelle’s feelings for a dark society, creating a track that can be compared to Grimes’s “Oblivion,” a song about assault. It is upsetting that after this halfway point in the album, the songs begin to lose their steam, feeling almost mediocre.
“Getting Tired” feels exactly just that–a tame piece that is vocally slowed down, one with a piano that plays its constant dissonant melody to keep the album moving along. “Sore Eyes” is also sobering, with its talk about walking to the store and picking up cigarettes and the old man behind a counter. Unsustained keyboard notes, crescendos created through distortion, more melodic keys, and interspersing of different effects adds textures that do not feel as experimental as previous tracks. “Bunny Rose” has a clacking percussion that would have seemed an interesting addition in the more poppy songs. What tracks like those in the final half do for the listener is take them away from quasi-abstract sceneries and drop them back to more unsatisfactory ones caked with artificial keyboard playing and dull structures.
This album makes me wonder whether the band wants a concrete song or not. While the transfusion of different vocalists is interesting, especially when compounded with fairly rounded instrumental textures, I feel we do not get very intimate with the entire band. Sounds are at different wavelengths and, while that is good experimentally, it makes me wonder whether imbalance is their sound or not. That said, I feel like cutting this into an EP would have been a better decision.
Dustin Ragucos is a writer of things fictional, poetic, and musical. His main loves include Death Grips and Indie music. Dustin’s blog is host to a weekly blurb about albums old and new.