Review Summary: The only thing to do is love, and so I do.
There’s been some backlash to Native Speaker
already, but I can’t for the life of me understand why. These open spaces, these syncopated drums, and these major chords, these goddamn major chords so effortlessly navigated by Raphaelle Standell-Preston’s ethereal voice positively soar together. I thought everyone at least kind of liked Bjork, right? I’m not denying that the influences on Braids are numerous and obvious, but it’s reductive to compare Native Speaker
to its predecessors. While the earthy, simultaneously spacious and intimate vibe recalls both Feels
, the elements Braids cull of both records are blended to create something nearly as singular. So why fight it? Standell-Preston reveals Native Speaker
’s chief conceit at the beginning when she chants “All we really wanna do is love” ad nauseum, turning the hokey mantra into an infectious one. With the urge to deconstruct something this whole to the sum of its parts sufficiently resisted, Native Speaker
can be an eye-closer, a record that implores night listening and high quality headphones- a setting where guards are down and Braids are allowed to captivate.
And they are deftly capable of captivating. The band’s mastery of negative space renders Native Speaker
devastatingly effective when its producers resist the urge for immediacy. Braids work best when they go outside, drenching their songs in reverb and letting their guitar articulations remain imprecise. That the record falters at “Plath Heart” and “Same Mum” is a testament to Braids’ ability to create deep music in the abstract. The two songs mark the act’s foray into focused pop music, a form that limits their expression to one color tone instead of the vast, layered palette they conjure everywhere else. “Plath Heart” in particular registers as “cute indie” before it vanishes under “Glass Deers,” the misfire a result of cutting the reverb and most importantly confining Standell-Preston to a closed space. Native Speaker
is this woman’s showcase. Her flirty hushed whispers invite us in only to powerfully set up the moments when she boasts her considerable pipes, moments such as “Lemonade,” “Lammicken,” and “Glass Deers,” all of which feature jaw dropping performances from Braids’ centerpiece. She is the band’s calling card and the record shines when it allows her to fly.
The aviation strand in this write-up is intentional: this record breathes, the flight metaphors appropriate because of the way this record negotiates the air around it to come out with something gorgeous. Standell-Preston uses the album’s expanses to take massive bites out of lyrics, particularly on “Native Speaker,” where her inflections recall choice contemporary nymphets Bjork and Karin Dreijer Andersson, aping their naivety but also their sexuality. For example, the title track rhymes “pinkest lips that kiss so nicely” with “…of having you inside me,” and keep an ear open for the few perfectly dropped F-bombs on the record. Standell-Preston isn’t without her darker corners, but behind music as pretty as she has she maintains her charming warmth, always from a distance but also, somehow, always intimate; it’s as though she is singing from far away, but only to you.
I want to emphasize how addictive this record can be because that is, ultimately, its appeal. Native Speaker
’s conclusion returns it to its beginning, which isn’t to say the album is cyclical, but rather it enraptures to the point where it must
be played again to revisit the crystallized moments you remember and the subtler, equally as beautiful ones you missed. “Lemonade” and “Glass Deers” are the initial listen’s clear standouts- “Lemonade” for its unbridled, irresistible joy and “Glass Deers” for those holy-shit
parts, you’ll know the ones I’m talking about- while the album’s sprawling title track and “Lammicken” blossom on future ones. “All we really wanna do is love” being an infectious mantra for Native Speaker
means more for us as listeners than it does in the context of the album. Because this album sticks so memorably, so unwaveringly brightly, it’s useless to resist it. The only thing to do is love, and so I do.