The beating of plaited hearts

Calgary born, Montréal based Braids are bringing their hauntingly enveloping textural tunes to the Limestone City

On Braids’ debut record Native Speaker (cover art pictured left by Mark Rimmer) Taylor Smith, Raphaelle Standell-Preston, Katie Lee and Austin Tufts (from left) create pulsating, breathing soundscapes through the careful layering of soaring and deconstructed melodies.
On Braids’ debut record Native Speaker (cover art pictured left by Mark Rimmer) Taylor Smith, Raphaelle Standell-Preston, Katie Lee and Austin Tufts (from left) create pulsating, breathing soundscapes through the careful layering of soaring and deconstructed melodies.

Gurgling swells of sonic bubbles trickle from my headphones as I press play yet again on Montreal based quartet Braids’ debut record Native Speaker. It pulls me in and out of consciousness, with lush breathing instrumentation layers over tribal drums, building upon lightly soaring pinwheel guitar loops spiked by haunting bells.

It’s a delirious and strung-out living soundscape—peaceful and serene, provocative and startlingly textural.

“Things are very fluid, we’re very conscious of things not being too abrupt,” Braids’ drummer Austin Tufts told me over the phone. “It’s kind of like the concept of giving somebody a massage, you don’t want to rub their shoulders for five seconds then rub their lower back for three and a half seconds then rub their left shoulder for a second and a half with a sharp point of your finger … you want to ease them into it gradually.”

Friends since the sandbox, the connectivity between Tufts and vocalist-guitarist Raphaelle Standell-Preston, keyboardist Katie Lee and guitarist and effects master Taylor Smith drips through each note they play.

“We bond super well, the friendships we have are pretty incredible actually,” Tufts said. “Each of these people I’m in the band with, they throw me for curveballs, but they’re never overwhelming. They’re super fresh.”

Genuine mutual respect for one another is evident in the band’s approach to their creation, be it through their unilateral contribution to vocals, their decision to self-record Native Speaker or their collaborative writing process.

“All of these different experiences inspire an idea or a concept and somebody will bring that to the band,” Tufts explained. “Then we’ll sort of jam it out for a while and discuss it a little bit … we all have to always approve of everything everyone’s doing … it’s totally collective.”

In a post-Merriweather world, the words reverb, delay and distortion have become an expected and ever present synonymy with music, making it difficult to differentiate between experimental pop outfits. However, Braids have pushed beyond the confines of the post-rock blanket, emerging with an exploratory record in which nothing is held back.

The band’s constant motion and obsessive eye for unique arrangement speaks to their ability to avoid being pigeonholed. Tufts spoke to verbally describing or categorizing Braids in a genre aptly.

“A chain of adjectives, what does that really mean when you’re trying to describe something that’s a lot more emotional and deep than words can express? If words could properly express it we wouldn’t necessarily need to make that music, we could write something about it,” Tufts said. “It’s using one medium to try to capture a different medium.”

Released on Jan. 18 after gaining momentum and support throughout 2010, the Calgary born group’s debut had the gestation period of an infant.

“We spent 10 hours a day for nine months working on that record … it totally is our little baby,” Tufts said.

With songs ranging from four to eight minutes, it’s surprising that even the longer tracks never veer off into unintelligible psychedelic jam territory. Strong and emotion-flecked vocals ensure a sense of control is never lost. Within the seven tracks, each listener will hear a different thing as layers peel back. Tufts said assembling and disassembling the fragments of Braids’ songs is in the forefront of the band’s consciousness.

“The reason the songs become so long is just because of how many ideas each of us have and always trying to find a place and an appropriate context for each idea,” he said. “It will probably lead us somewhere else, to some kind of exploration and some kind of growth. We’re very conscious of that in terms of continuing the energy and the concentration and the vibe of the song … we try to reserve an emotion or a feeling and in the end it usually results in something fairly cohesive.”

The decision to self-record offers younger bands the ability to preserve their authenticity and vision while shirking time and monetary constraints. Tufts said it gave the band the challenge of composing music differently in the future.

“It’s sort of led us to start creating in that [studio] environment whereas all the songs on Native Speaker were created in a live environment,” he said. “If we hadn’t gotten so involved with the recording process and the computer, we wouldn’t have ever come to that point with our music.”

Without the pressure of a label to get the record into the ears of eager listeners, Tufts said the band was able to create freely and fully submerge into the process.

“It led us to focus more on little specific details,” Tufts said. “It was our own desire that pushed us to finish it.”

Even though the record’s release has brought affirmation around every corner from accolades like Rolling Stone, The New York Times, The Globe and Mail and Pitchfork, Tufts was matter of fact on what’s next for the band in the upcoming months.

“I guess the hype machine is doing it’s job,” he said. “I’d like to keep trying to do mine and make music we like to make.”

Braids play the Grad Club tonight with Cherry Chapstick and Long Long Long. Doors open at 9 p.m.

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