BRAIDS has been reborn. This much is obvious in 2013, both superficially and on a deeper thematic level. On the surface, the former foursome is now a three-piece outfit, having lost member Katie Lee to the charming Port St. Willow. Now consisting of lead singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston, multi-instrumentalist Taylor Smith, and drummer Austin Tufts, the Montreal group has evolved past its old incarnation in another key way: electronically. For those that fell in love with the band’s 2011 debut Native Speaker, this gives new BRAIDS material a cold glow that perhaps could be unwelcome. That would be selling the group short, however, as the In Kind // Amends 12″ continues what made these young Canadians so special: an unbridled honesty to both craft and themes that reads earnestly with a bit of wide-eyed naivety that only enhances the music.
The shift in instrumentation is still jarring despite the similar beating heart, so BRAIDS wisely leads off the collection with “In Kind”, a song that they have played live for a couple of years now but had never recorded properly. Guitars are still present here, but used more as wraiths of set-up rather than as the world-beaters they were on Native Speaker. The star of the show, as is often the case both with BRAIDS and Blue Hawaii (more on this later), is Standell-Preston’s voice. Here, her vocals are crystal clear and doubled throughout the verses, which have her trademark breathy delivery clashing against crashing cymbals and woozed-out synths. Lyrically, it details the loneliness of not being up close and intimate with your loved one, a feeling explored before by the band but done here with more abandon; it’s not just about the sex, but about the connection of losing yourself onto someone.
Throughout the band’s catalog, that search for connection has given a backbone to what has at times being flighty melodic choices. This is a band that created an entire song out of a thumping heartbeat of a drum and the lyrics “I can’t stop it” (“Lammicken”), so it should not surprise that there are similar moments of minimalism on In Kind // Amends. “Near Enough” has more lyrical meat than that on its bone, but the music itself lives in a state of dreaming that could serve as the definition for the ‘dream pop’ genre that BRAIDS is often paired with. A drone lasts for the entirety of the song, while a piano-esque riff floats in the background, fighting with a drum beat perfect for a rainy afternoon nap. It works because it embraces something that is often lost upon this genre: you can create ambience, but you need to populate it with flourishes that work both as self-expression and as relatability.
That’s a long way of saying that the next track, “Amends”, is among the best things BRAIDS has ever done. By taking the lessons that Standell-Preston’s Blue Hawaii side project learned from this year’s wonderful LP Untogether into account, the band has created a piece of electronic pop that both pays homage to their sincerity while also working new grounds that frankly seemed unattainable for a guitar-based outfit even just 2 years ago. From the first thump of the drum machine, it’s clear that this is not your traditional BRAIDS song; there’s a slower build as instruments are piled on top of each other, with Standell-Preston weaving it all together with what has become one of my favorite of her vocal lines: “It is the heart that surely shows it/ shows the softness the man knows/ while the body tries to hold it/ hold the softness the heart shows.” As a lyricist, she is best when she is describing the physical reactions to emotional stimuli (see the glorious “Peach Wedding” for another example), and when backed by a silence that slowly builds up to a celestial breakdown here…it is stunning.
The 12” ends with the more ambient and lengthy “A Dawn In Me”, which is about half a lazy build-up of synths and piano, and half a vocal master class of simplicity, with Standell-Preston building on top of the fog with a simple “A dawn in me / a dawn in you”. The energy from “Amends” is channeled into a linear path here, yet you feel as disoriented as you might have when Standell-Preston was singing about fucking either dragons or stray kids on Native Speaker’s “Lemonade”. The more things change, the more a powerful direction stays the same. So while BRAIDS may be 25% smaller now and newly electronic in process, it is still the same band that put out a modern classic of youth and mystifying pop music. As the appetizer to this year’s upcoming LP, Flourish // Perish, the In Kind // Amends 12” does more than just provide an excellent listen; it assures fans of the band that the Montreal trio has not lost its ability to portray the quiet little things that connect us all.