Review Summary: Though the foggy breathed soundscapes of "Native Speaker" are quite beautiful, the listening experience isn‘t all that engaging.
Montreal avant-pop quartet Braids’ debut album “Native Speaker”
is more or less the aural equivalent of watching clouds. Sometimes vague images will take form, but more often than not, you’re left staring at something light and fluffy and lacking of substance when needed. Mixing organic and synthetic sounds seamlessly, Braids will easily draw comparisons to “Feels”
era Animal Collective, albeit, as a less magical incarnation. Where “Feels”
had a sort of pulsating and untamed energy, “Native Speaker”
enjoys teasing the listener by never allowing its songs to enter full out charges or anthemic stomps. Instead, structure is very loose as the band takes up free reign to explore slow burning psychedelic manipulations. Most of the time they’re struggling to keep their heads above the waves of tribal drumming, twinkling synth, and ambient swells. It’s only through the performance of airy female vocalist Raphaelle Standell-Preston that they stay afloat.
One moment twee and fairy like, while on the next, powerful and belting, Standell-Preston is simply breathtaking as she digs out trenches of emotional depth akin to that of Icelandic singer Bjork. Accompanied by a ghostly choir of distant harmonies, the vocals on “Native Speaker”
easily make for the album’s most memorable passages. The heavily arpeggiated swell of “Lemonade” and the swagger of the pseudo-dance number “Plath Heart” starts the album off beautifully
, though beyond these two tracks, patience will be tested. The majority of "Native Speaker”
is very sedative, as one is left waiting for the interweaving streams of sound to eventually form into something. While this method does work well enough on the soupy and strung out “Glass Dears”, and the slow caustic build of “Lammicken”, you’ll often find yourself grasping for something more striking in these compositions.
The title track, akin to one big and drawn out yawn, is a perfect example of the painfully lax nature of this album. And while the bubbly “Same Mum” and jazzy instrumental “Little Hand” are enjoyable enough, neither leave much of an impression once the last seconds of the songs run dry. There simply isn’t any prioritizing over which moments are allowed to collect in pensive thought, and which come together consciously into palpable melodies. Like gathering thunder storms, the breezy guitar lines, rolling drum fills, and spacey keyboards eventually
all build into a shimmering and thick atmosphere; sometimes too late to make much of a difference.
If Animal Collective’s sense of urgency and free spirited nature of experimentalism proved too jarring for your ears, I incline you to sit back and relax to the radiating and watery tones of Braids. Though the foggy breathed soundscapes of "Native Speaker" are
quite beautiful, the listening experience isn‘t all that engaging. Hopefully next time, this group will set goals that are more concise and varied and work towards forging a more unique identity.