Friday, January 28, 2011
Braids - Native Speaker (2011)
There's a video floating around on Youtube where an interviewer asks Braids "What kind of sound are you trying to achieve?" Band mate Raphaelle Standelle-Preston quickly responds "I really want it to sound like damp hair, not like wet water or anything, but hair that's really like you know like (Raphaelle at this point starts stroking her hair, trying to convey what her words cannot) you know how your hair gets when it's like really wet and then it kinda like goes into little strands and stuff?". No Raphaelle, I can't say I do know what you mean. Maybe if I had longer hair? In fact, Raphaelle, on my first listen (before watching this interview) the image of damp hair did not cross my mind even once. So in this regard Braid's Native Speaker is an absolute an utter failure.
The album does succeed in other areas, though. However, in trying to think about how this album succeeds (and how it doesn't in some places) I found myself in the same predicament as Raphaelle, groping around for half-assed metaphors that describe the feeling the album evokes. So instead of burdening the reader with these, I’ll just describe the album on more sonic terms.
Native Speaker is best classified as a Dream Pop or maybe Neo-Psychedelic album. It sounds, in fact, a lot like Animal Collective’s Meriwether Post Pavilion in some parts, except with a female singer and with a slightly less layered and more focused sound. So it's certainly not a new sound. But it is a distinctive sound.
The album is at its best when it tames these wild, bubbling, Psychedelic textures into a focused hook. “Plath Heart” is a great example of this, and one of the album’s standouts; a track, which despite its psychedelic feel, has all the makings of a pop song. The album’s opener, “Lemonade” is another standout. It succeeds in being not only melodically pleasing and catchy, but also atmospheric. Something that you could listen to on a warm summer day, while you drive around spitting cherry pits out your 1991 Toyota Camry (shit, that’s not much better than damp hair is it?), and from then on forever associate with cherry pits and the sun baked hood of your 1991 Toyota Camry. To me, this is what Dream Pop should sound like at its best. It’s this sort of rich, often nostalgic imagery that distances Dream Pop from just Pop.
Unfortunately, Native Speaker doesn’t consistently succeed in evoking this feeling. Why not? Well this is the point in the review where I feel like desperately stroking my hair. Most of the songs have a great, bubbly texture to them, but it wears a bit thin as the album goes on. I guess you could say the hair starts to dry up. Parts that could sound potentially beautiful to some sound to me like a bunch of hipsters fidgeting around with their instruments in an ecstatic attempt to conjure whatever it is they’re feeling. The title track, for instance, is just flat out boring to me. Sure, the textures and tones work well together, but it never transcends to anything more…it’s just an inoffensive, nice sounding track. And with a genre like Dream Pop, I want more than inoffensive. Dreams can be fascinating. They can contain a rich collection of emotions and images. Often times I dream of worlds I never even consider in waking life, and experience emotions that can be both euphoric and frightening. But these frightening “nightmares”, if you will, are also some of my most interesting dreams. So why does a band like Braids, one clearly with the talent to piece together some great sounding tracks, only seem to focus on the light and airy dreams of frolicking unicorns?