Review Summary: This is my face
How and why Braid became such a staple of 90’s indie rock and emo is a question that I, when I first encountered them on a downloading spree from the blogosphere, couldn’t even begin to answer. They weren’t like the spastic and playful Cap’n Jazz; they were much more rooted in simpler guitar melodies and riffs. They were more confident than Mineral yet quieter than the Get Up Kids and, to top it off, they had a vocalist as far removed from the sugary sweet, high-pitched, soft voices of literally every other band on the scene. No, Braid did not have the immediate depressing atmosphere of the typical indie/emo hybrid band, but they had a way of staying in your mind.
My love with Braid is not a first-date kind of love, a faux attempt at life and giving it depth ala Romeo and Juliet. Braid is the kid with the perfect nape of the neck that you can’t stop staring at in class. The movie that you can’t watch just once. A special type of sound that will ring in your ears until you hear it again. Braid’s Age of Octeen is exactly what it sets out to be; the culmination of the turning point in life for the young Americans.
The Age of Octeen, much like the closer implies, acts as an autobiography of sorts. There isn’t a single story or even conceptual elements to the album, but there are overarching themes of imagery revolving cars and diners, summers ending, and making music for movies. From the slow-burning opener My Baby Smokes to the poppy riffage of Jimmy Go Swimmer to the melancholy Eulalia Eulalia, Braid covers all bases on teenage life, taking the perspective of a film director as the rites of passage into adulthood are undertaken. The greatest example of this film analogy is Harrison Ford, undoubtedly the darkest and heaviest song on the album. As the guitars slide along to a subtle drum roll, setting the scene and stopping only to let out an aggressive stop-start riff, the lyrics follow a conceit, using the Harrison Ford-type hero to describe an experience with death or suffering. Like the main actor, the singer hollers and commands the audience’s attention with his singing that sounds like calls to the heavens.
like you and me
Of course, this is still a musical album, and the focus of this album is not just on the imagery it conjures, but also on how it uses sound to make you feel. The singer’s voice is so unique within the indie rock scene (at least before Bear vs. Shark came) and it is one of the true highlights of this record. It may take some getting used to, but his loud and gruff demeanor works excellently for delivering the lyrics with such honesty and a very gentleman-like demeanor only seen in the Midwest. Every sharp and eccentric guitar line is never too loud to overshadow the driving bass, and the interplay between all three stringed instruments is often the highlight of every song. The songwriting is very much open-ended; due to the order of the album, every song differs from the last, leaving the listener wondering what will happen next. No other song has such an ugly and distorted bridge like Nineteen Seventy Five and no other song even utilizes a trumpet like in Eulalia Eulalia. Also, special props need to be given to the drum sound, as the snare is perfectly crisp and amazing to hear when it’s in action.
Braid never intended to be easily-digestible. Their sound is large, with every little detail adding together over the course of an album to create something truly unique and beautiful. The Age of Octeen wasn’t Braid’s debut, but it was the first time we truly got to hear them in their prime. This album is just a little reminder that we can always replay the old movies, and we can always think about our favorite parts as we show it to others.