BRAIDS, established 2006 in Calgary, Alberta, are an art rock band currently based out of Montreal, Canada. The group, who met each other and formed while in high school, consists of Raphaelle Standell-Preston on vocals and guitar, Katie Lee on keyboards, Austin Tufts on drums and Taylor Smith on guitar. After a series of festival appearances in their early days, the group decided to pursue music instead of attending college and released their debut EP Set Pieces in 2008 under the band name The Neighborhood Council. In late 2008, BRAIDS relocated to Montreal so that Lee, Smith and Tufts could take classes at McGill University and still perform together. They released their debut album, Native Speaker, in 2009 on Flemish Eye Records and later on Kanine Records for US distribution. Since releasing their debut LP, BRAIDS has received praise from influence bands such as Deerhunter and Animal Collective, as well as from major publications such as the Guardian, Spin and Rolling Stone.
Weather is the ubiquitous argument for why seemingly random pockets of the world spawn world-changing music scenes. Why did grunge spring up in Seattle? “Well, it rains so much, there's nothing else to do.” Why are so many great artists from Iceland, a nation of 300,000? “It's dark half the year, we have to do something.” In reality, weather can't be much more than a fraction of the explanation, but you've got to wonder when a band like BRAIDS comes around. The Calgary, Canada four-piece was still in their teens when they self-produced and self-recorded Native Speaker, a fearlessly dense and complex mash of dreamily meandering psychedelic rock. You'd imagine it takes an iron will or 10 feet of snow (plus a whole lot of talent) to keep four high school kids locked in a room long enough to make something this experimental, yet focused and accessible. Clocking in at nearly seven minutes, “Lemonade” is bottled wonder: an ever bubbling cauldron of repeating lead guitar, disembodied, echoing cries in the background, a killer tribal chant of a chorus. There's so much going on in the song, it feels like a force of nature rushing forward, like it would be the perfect thing to soundtrack fast-forwarded footage of clouds in a nature documentary or something. “Plath Heart” pulses with electricity and sexual confusion/unease thanks to lines like, “There's no loving after all the squirm we've been through/I've not come back to you” or “When you scold me it leads me to implore the/Golden hole/Which was surely given/To make beautiful children.” Lead singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston's vocal phrases and rhythms accentuate her message as she yelps, stops suddenly mid-phrase, or lets loose a beautifully drawn out word. That phrasing, combined with the spaced out guitars and tumbling-headfirst-down-the-stairs guitar line sounds a lot like like Feels era Animal Collective, as do other moments on the album. It's tough to escape the shadow of one of the most influential bands of the last decade, and BRAIDS does an incredible job of making their influences sound fresh rather than derivative. Give them the chance, and BRAIDS will carry you away into their world of six-minute psych-pop journeys.