Album review: "Native Speaker"
The music on Braids' debut album, "Native Speaker," is eccentric, expansive and experimental. Yet it's not all that distinctive. This Montreal quartet sounds as if it has been working late in the same lab as many other art-pop bands, formulating its style from common ingredients: the rippling loops of '70s minimalism, the haziness of '80s "shoegaze" and the chiming tones of Afropop. Braids adds another ingredient that's also trendy but less widely available: a lead singer who can channel Bjork's little-girl soprano and amok crescendos.
The album's seven songs are long, meandering and mostly unhurried. Typically, a Braids tune begins with a phrase that Steve Reich might have composed, followed by the entry of Raphaelle Standell-Preston's breathy, multi-tracked vocals. Katie Lee and Taylor Smith's high-pitched guitars circle each other as tick-tock drummer Austin Tufts adds clanging accents before the piece shifts into a vocal chant, a becalmed instrumental aside or (most likely) both.
Some passages are almost punchy, in a leisurely sort of way, and "Glass Deers" features an unprintable phrase, repeated again and again amid birdlike squawks. But none of these songs could be termed earthy. "Native Speaker" is skillfully constructed musical vapor - beguiling yet distant.
- Mark Jenkins, Feb. 2011