It should be no surprise that Braids is causing a storm of attention to swirl around their debut album, Native Speaker (Flemish Eye Records). The Montreal-based band creates the kind of dreamy, atmospheric music that’s usually the sacred territory of artists like Bjork and Animal Collective, and they’ve been highly praised by Pitchfork and Exclaim! for taking that sound and making it their own.
“I love that we’ve been compared to Bjork,” says lead vocalist Raphaelle Standell-Preston. The band formed in their last year of high school, and bravely left their hometown of Calgary to jumpstart their career in a new city. “Montreal was very inspiring,” says Katie Lee (keys and vocals) of her new home. “We started to write a lot more collectively [for Native Speaker] because of the experience and confusion of it.” Despite the language barrier, Standell-Preston says the Montreal indie music scene has been very welcoming. “I can order my breakfast [in French],” she laughs, “but that’s pretty much it!”Even though the album release date is only this week, the band says they’ve been in talks to go overseas after this current tour with Baths and Star Slinger ends. Their current tour includes playing the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, where they’re sure to get noticed by more critics. That has Standell-Preston a bit nervous: “I’m afraid of Pitchfork – they’re such a huge music engine,” she says. Lee’s confident the completely self-recorded album will get a positive reception. “It’s just a piece of art we’ve made, and we’re going to keep making more,” she says. The band’s installed recording gear in their van, as well as a mini controller and a little keyboard, so they can record on the long tour ahead, Lee adds.
All of Braids’ songs track in at about seven minutes, and Lee and Standell-Preston both admit they can’t write a three minute song. The first single off Native Speaker, “Lemonade,” begins by slowly blending multiple layers of sound, building and building until it cascades into a playful yet complicated pop melody. “Glass Deers” incorporates sassy female vocals that go back and forth between soft romantic melodies and sing-shouting – a style that commands the listener’s attention by sounding like a more experimental version of something off Beach House’s Teen Dream. Yet considering how moody and intense the album is, it’s surprising to find out how energetic and upbeat the two women are. Standell-Preston says the title track “means the most” live: “We have no set form; it’s pure emotion with an element of improvisation. On the record is not the same as how we play it live.” Adds Lee: “Lyrically it’s the most honest song on the record. There’s a sense of conclusion with no angst. It’s about how nice it is to be in love.”
Standell-Preston explains that many of the lyrics were written when she was 17 years old, but since then she’s found ways of describing “beautiful situations” without being obvious. “Since we get so emotionally invested and attached to the songs it was hard at first to play [them],” she says. “Now I just can’t wait to get it out there.” You can catch Braids tonight (Jan. 21) for their CD release party at Mavericks with Long Long Long and Trees. Tickets are $8.