Review Summary: More than anything, it's assurance that Braids are as creative and industrious a force as ever.
Brimming with skill and creativity, Montreal's Braids burst onto the scene in 2011 with Native Speaker
, an impressive debut that with a refreshing dose of enthusiasm and spontaneity, disintegrated the confines of archetypical indie-rock. Following that album's critical success, came 2013's more somber and largely electronic Flourish // Perish
. It featured a much greater emphasis on production, but was subverted by a deep, pervading sadness stemming from front-woman Raphaelle Standell-Preston--the resulting turmoil and self-absorption of which partly caused the then quartet to lose keyboardist, Katie Lee--a sadness that she never directly confronts on the record. Moving forward as a three-piece, both Standell-Preston and Braids as a whole boldly re-emerged last year with Deep in the Iris
, a starkly wiser and more focused effort than its predecessor. And while some were disappointed with its relatively straightforward approach, it showcased their most consistently concise song-writing to date, executed with the instrumental prowess they've always possessed. It was the most invigorated and optimistic they'd sounded since their debut, and the most personal Standell-Preston's lyrics had ever delved. That's no coincidence: Deep In the Iris
found her confronting the underlying burdens that plagued their sophomore in a remarkable attempt to move past
them. For example, 'Taste' found her accepting a failed, tempestuous relationship, and in 'Blondie' and 'Miniskirt', she bravely recounted being molested by her stepfather as a child, along with the subsequent explosion of her family that ensued. An appropriate thesis statement for the album could be, "the hardest part is letting go": in Standell-Preston working toward doing so, things definitely got weighty, but the end-result was one of the most beautiful, liberated efforts that last year had to offer.
Off the back of that record comes Companion EP
, an aptly titled collection of leftover ideas from Deep in the Iris
that didn't quite fit into that project, but were apparently worthy to be fleshed-out into a proper release. The double entendre also refers to the opening track, 'Companion', a gorgeous synthesizer ballad written for her stepbrother regarding the dissolution of their family following her disclosure of her stepfather's sexually abusive tendencies: "it had nothing to do with you, how can I make that more clear"/ we were sent off, whether we liked it or not". The following song, 'Joni', is a lively cut that contains an Animal Collective-esque rhythm: with looping acoustic samples providing the backbone of melody amidst various electronics, it uneasily accepts the notion that our fates are completely out of our own hands. The mid-tempo 'Trophies for Paradox' displays impressively intricate drumming, both live and programmed, and though it's less lyrically specific than the others here, we get the sense that Standell-Preston is finally moving past a neglectful lover, on to someone better for her. The finale, 'Sweet World', is the longest song they've recorded since 'In Kind'--arguably the best stand-alone track in their discography--and though it doesn't reach the dizzying heights of that career-landmark, it's rousing to hear them attempt a long-form song for the first time in a while. Lyrically, it's yet another revealing introspection from Standell-Preston: despite the underlying pain from her childhood molestation and turbulent past-relationship that is still very much present and palpable, she's beginning to succeed in moving past it, with a new companion, in a new place--"everything is changing, and it feels so right this time".
Somewhat expectedly, Companion EP
fails to surpass the benchmark set its predecessor, which mostly boils down to just how brief it is. But for fans, it's more-than-welcome material to tide us over until their next full-length, and most importantly, it's assurance that Braids are as creative and industrious a force as ever. It's also worth noting that there's a metaphor at the end of 'Companion' that's easy to overlook, one that ties their past few releases together brilliantly: as the synthesizers swell to a climax, she sings about her stepbrother as a child, "cute chubby kid, that hated to swim." After the enormous synths subside, a stunningly delicate piano-movement takes hold, as she recalls, "remember when I pushed you in"/ you were surprised that you floated". It's a sublime ending, not simply because of the earnest fragility in Preston's wavering voice, but because of the lyric's implications in a larger, metaphorical narrative: aside from sharing a personal memory with her brother, this passage truly serves to represent the calamity and aftermath that he experienced from being the son of a child molester, which she
ultimately set in motion; the water representing adversity, change and pain; and floating representing enduring
the water--persevering, surviving--in spite
of it. If you apply this metaphor to their past few album covers, whether intentional or not, a striking relationship reveals itself. The artwork of Flourish // Perish
features a black orb hovering above a grey, still body of water; in this record, Standell-Preston is suspended above the water in a futile attempt to repress it, and thereby trapped within a dark, insular state of limbo. Deep in the Iris
however, faces the water head on, both literally and metaphorically, and as a result, the weather has improved--a sunny day has arrived. On the cover of Companion
, the perspective has shifted: we're looking from below the surface, up at her dangling legs, as the sun penetrates deep into the water; though she's submerged, she's learning to float; though the memories still haunt her, she's learning to move on. It's but one of countless anecdotes in this world that go to show, when we face our demons and we confront our adversities, we can eventually transcend them: we learn, we adapt, we fight, we overcome--we survive