REVIEW: Braid - "No Coast"


Braid - No Coast
Record Label - Topshelf Records
Release Date - July 8, 2014

File this one under something that probably only people over 30 are interested in. Because if there ever were a forgotten band of the post-rock era it's Braid. The band formed in the indie hotbed of Chicago in the early 90s and released 3 albums before disbanding in 1999 only to get back together in 2004 for a series of shows, disband and finally reunite three years ago for the most recent time. No Coast, released in July 2014, is the band's first studio record since 1998's under-looked masterpiece Frame and Canvas.

In many ways, No Coast seems to pick up where the band left off 15 years ago. Chockfull of dense riffs, if you haven't heard Braid before, you're going to dig their ability to make noise into melody and melody into noise. If you've followed Braid, you're going to rekindle nostalgia for the golden days of Jawbreaker, Sunny Day Real Estate, Rites of Spring, early Death Cab for Cutie, and Jets to Brazil. Listening to No Coast, it's easy to remember that time when "emo" wasn't a derogatory term for a generation of wimpy kids with badly dyed hair (there's even a dig in Richard Linklater's Boyhood), but when a generation of musicians merged the exemplary musicianship of American punk bands like the Minutemen with their hearts-on-their-sleeve. Braid continues to bring to life that era when kids were making things, when scenes were flourishing, when to be sentimental meant to be caring about what you and your friends did, not ironic stances or cliche self-expression, but to generate and regenerate the world as you wanted to see it.

The band's acutely aware that this time seems to have passed by in between albums. On "East End Hollows" they sing:  "Drunk last in punk love, we dream of / Punk rock show and losing scenes / Dark lust and Dj sex and list of projects / We can never finish, oh no / What makes you, makes me think (do you think?) / Happiness resides in the peek in the bar / And the neighbor who knew we'd reside / Happiness is in the doing in the making / In the who knows who knows who what happened (this is the life) / Another drink, another lifetime of regrets / Another song so we can sing along / Another friend you never call on / Another night to be forgotten / But you take these dreams and throw them out the window." Equally dream and acknowledgement of their romanticizing of the past, "East End Hollows" is the thesis statement of a band who's taking joy in making music that has passed by.

I'd forgotten how amazing it was when I heard Braid the first time until No Coast rekindled all that energy. It's an utterly infectious album with driving rhythms that stop and turn on downbeats only to pick back up at the speed they left off. Go on, I dare you to listen to "Lux" and not find some part of your body bobbing. Part of the joy is how Braid's akimbo rhythm seems to perfectly set off the vocals and get the guitar parts strumming along as on "Bang" the opener from the album.

As each lick seems to live in overdrive a languid melody is jostled by a throbbing rhythm, popping the tune into all sorts of new directions. The enjoyment of this music is that the way the songs twist and turn it feels as if anything could be done from song to song. Braid's willingness to reinvent each song as it moves along makes No Coast, like Braid's earlier albums (which deserve a throwback listen after digesting No Coast), endlessly surprising and will endear you to the band even more, even if you didn't  know who they were before this review. (And if you haven't heard them before, who does this band remind you of? Cloud Nothings?)

Because, for bands like Braid, it's really impossible to even take on an air of objectivity. And to try to detach myself from how I knew the band before is just a waste of time. When a band suddenly reemerges after such a long time away like Braid or The Dismemberment Plan last year, the tendency is to lump their new album in with their old ones or try and treat them as a totally new outfit, which is just as wrong. For their part, if there's even an ounce of doubt about returning, it's no where on this album. In fact, there are few albums that sound this self-assured and high-octane. As the band sings on "Many Enemies" -- "This is my city / Ask for the truth / And you get it / Believe what you want / And that's your truth / Ask for the truth / And you get it / Believe what you want / The truth can be anything / Anything!"


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