“Lemonade,” the first track on Braids’ dreamy debut Native Speaker, begins bubbly and innocently, hazily floating on a bed of effects-laden synthesizers. It’s all so blissful and serene, melodic and inviting, that it’s easy to overlook frontwoman Raphaelle Standell-Preston’s vulgar inquiry, “Have you fucked all the stray kids yet?” This is the first indication that Native Speaker is a record built on contradictions; complementary contradictions, but opposing elements all the same. While the band deals primarily in dream pop, heavily influenced by shoegazer acts of the late ’80s and ’90s, there’s an urgency that cuts through the effects and the foam. And though bliss and daydreams may be their game, their singer is anything but a shrinking violet, ably leaping from erotic coo to alien shriek with little strain or overexertion.
Comprising a mere seven songs, Native Speaker finds Braids introducing their skewed brand of electronic dream pop via a series of spacious, stretched out anthems that blend childlike sounds with uncomfortable and unexpected burst, with the occasional streak of sexiness. Through these stretched-out, expansive and epic tracks, however, Braids present yet another contradiction; while these are lengthy compositions, they don’t seem so, and tend to breeze by quickly and without much redundancy. The aforementioned “Lemonade” makes just shy of seven minutes seem like half that, its dense but delicate sonic treatments flowing elegantly. And the more than eight-minute title track slowly adds new layers upon a barely there ambient ballad, new elements passing in and out but never reaching a level of overindulgence.
Across Native Speaker‘s seven tracks, the band reveal themselves to be quite comfortable at transitioning from one distinctive approach to another, though each track seems quite at home here, flowing seamlessly from one sonic tactic to the next. They deliver eccentric electronic pop on standout “Plath Heart” before floating into a chilly, yet quirky new space on “Glass Deers,” a delightfully bizarre song that finds Standell-Preston returning to the refrain “I’m fucked up” before its syllables are delay-chopped into oblivion. And with “Lammicken,” the band even incorporates elements of disco into their sound, slowly but assuredly pulsing into a stunning dance pop gem.
Braids make a fine project of sewing together unlikely complements on Native Speaker, but they do so beautifully and effectively. It’s an album with many notable influences, but few peers. And it’s a spaced-out and trippy journey that’s surprisingly approachable and earthy. Braids may be made up of pieces of many shapes and sizes, but they fit together perfectly.
Video: Braids “Lemonade”