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3.9 out of 5 stars
Native Speaker
Format: MP3 Download|Change

VINE VOICETOP 50 REVIEWERon 5 February 2011
A Braid is a complex structure or pattern formed by intertwining three or more strands of flexible material. In the case of this new Canadian band from Calgary the formation can be detected in a mix of dreamy atmospheric shozgaze pop which brings together some of the preoccupations of Beach House with more out and out rock of their country contemporaries Broken Social Scene and with a hint of Bjork in her Sugarcubes guise. As such "Native Speaker" is a very impressive debut album, which shows promise to spare and a real willingness to take chances. The music blogs have been foaming at the mouth at the prospect of Braids debut LP and it is pleasing to report a fine new discovery.

One of the prime reasons for this is lead singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston's ethereal voice that performs all sort of complex gymnastics and the bands underpinning instrumentation based on bubbling euphoric synthesized backgrounds, which often break into huge waves of sound and noise, Ms Preston sweetness also disguises a rather dirty mouth. She starts the long but very commercial opener and album highlight "Lemonade" with the impertinent question "Have you f*****d all the stray kids yet"? This song verges on electronic perfection and is key references point. Other songs which standout include the dark and primal "Glass Deers" a nearly eight minute building wail of all kinds of synth loops and gentle vocal injects which grow into a force of nature and is instilled with a confidence that the Animal Collective would admire. "Lammickan" has some of that quality that makes Fever Ray so special and grows from a gradual chant to a synth wall of sound. "Same mum" alternatively could be played in a disco and ticks over at a sparkling pace reviving warm memories of the great Liz Fraser of the Cocteau Twins. As does "Plath Heart" which alternatively is more Germanic in focus and shows that in addition the band have done their research on Can and DAF. The title track is jam packed with echo, reverb and atmospherics although at nearly nine minutes some editing might not have gone amiss.

For a bunch of 21 year old grad students Native Speaker screams wisdom beyond their years. Native Speaker is not perfect but it's a great first outing. The album has an engrossing/ experimental quality devoid of any ambitions to secure chart success and with the emphasis on the production of glacial music destined to engage your grey matter. Seek it out.
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on 3 August 2012
Saw this band live (supporting the Wild Beasts), thought they sounded superb, so bought the album, but the spirit of their live performance is entirely lacking on record. A polished studio finish tries to add some professionalism to what is essentially a rather dull and samey clutch of tracks with little musical appeal. Alas there are many bands like this - all studio trickery and no substance. Classic bands like the Cocteau Twins, who inspired this format, understood that underneath there needs to be a well-crafted piece of melody and harmony, something that would sound interesting if played on stripped-down acoustic instruments. As for the vocalist, some have said she has an amazing voice - I'd say it's adequate, though she definitely sounded better live. Not a bad album per se, but utterly forgettable.
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on 11 November 2011
Only seven tracks but their quality shines throughout. This is an accomplished debut given that the album was recorded on a shoestring budget.

They manage to build layers of sound which are sconic landscapes and are always interesting and engaging. Sounds like the Cocteau Twins in places

They were the support for Wild Beasts last night at HMV Institute in Birmingham and were excellent.

They have great potential and am looking forward to new material
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on 4 March 2013
I have absolutely fell in love with this band, this album is fantastic, perfect from start to end and I would really recommend anyone with an open mind to music and a good taste to buy this!
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on 26 August 2012
 I first discovered this band around April 2011. They received a near full page four out of five star review in Q magazine. I thought they sounded interesting, but very difficult. As in they could be good, but it would take about ten listens for them to change from unlistenable arty sludge and into quite good in a polite, that isn't too bad actually kind of way. More effort than they could possibly be worth.

They were put to the back of my mind as a future possibility. And then I forgot all about them.

Then at the start of 2012 I was reading some old magazines when I came across that review again. This time I was properly intrigued by them. The mini interview published beside the review was full of interesting information. Such as it took nine months to record, and cost less than five hundred dollars to make (drum microphones and mastering were the only expenses).

It also fascinated me that they considered an obscure album called Feels by Animal Collective to be their year zero for music. It was appealingly odd as it's usually punk or The Beatles or Oasis or Elvis that revs peoples' motors up in such a big way. The band had to be doing something different to the norm with such an unexpected source of inspiration.

So I bought the forty-three minute Canadian art rock album. It wasn't as hard to enjoy as I expected. I don't remember outright liking it straightaway. I probably thought it was a bit so-so. Only the opening track was satisfying from the off.

It was strangely moreish. I found myself being drawn to re-listen to it again and again. Even though I felt it was a bit rubbish, it was rubbish in an interesting way. I started to really connect to it and appreciate it a lot more over the months.

I love the sense that they recorded exactly the album they set out to make. I get no impression that any compromises were made at any point. Whatever deficiencies there might be in the end result, they are not mistakes. Those parts are exactly what they were meant to be.

It's such unique, abstract, ambient, one of a kind music that it's really hard to describe it. This is an inaccurate and convoluted attempt at summing up their sound, but the best I can come up with is this: they sound as though The Cure and Meddle era Pink Floyd got together and wrote songs, and then Penguin Cafe Orchestra performed them. The music is full of little half melodies and very precise little bits of instrumental dabbling here and there. There doesn't appear to be any moments of musical showboating or solo spots. Everything they play is in aid of the songs. Often their ultimate goal appears to be to imitate bird chirrups.

The lyrics seem fairly preoccupied with sex, and there is a surprising amount of swearing. The female vocals are sometimes hard to make out clearly. With this band I assume it's deliberate. They are way too control freaky to allow the vocals to get lost in the mix by mistake.

1. Lemonade 6:46 (8 out of 10 stars)
The most immediate track, and the most pop. The, "All we want to do is love," section towards the end is great. I used to mishear, "love," as, "f-." Personally I prefer my version, and I can still deliberately mishear it if I want to. If you don't like this song then I seriously doubt the album is for you.

2. Plath Heart 4:26 (7 out of 10 stars)
Sonically louder and denser. The lyrics are a bit garbled, but they probably make complete sense to anyone who has read Sylvia Plath's work.

3. Glass Deers 8:10 (8 out of 10 stars)
A more lambent, laid back song with a repeated, "I'm f-ed up," vocal refrain to stop things getting too comfortable. It sounds oddly beautiful as it swells and gets louder. This is the track that most strongly recalls Penguin Cafe Orchestra.

4. Native Speaker 8:24 (4 out of 10 stars)
A quieter, slower, drifting track. It's sort of okay but it's too uneventful and overlong. I think the song is about the right, natural, compatible sexual partner. Hence the meaning of the title, as in the right partner speaks the same language physically, emotionally and verbally.

5. Lammicken 4:36 (8 out of 10 stars)
"I can't stop it," is repeated about seventeen times with no other lyrics. It sounds great and is as close to rock as this album gets as it builds up in volume and intensity.

6. Same Mum 7:02 (7 out of 10 stars)
The most notable sound is the pretty, naggingly insistent keyboards (I assume, it's hard to tell as these instruments are being used in unusual ways). The lyrics seem to be about evolution and genealogy. It's not as overtly impressive as the previous songs, but it's just as substantial.

7. Little Hand 4:27 (6 out of 10 stars)
An instrumental. It's short and pretty but it doesn't do anything different or better musically than any of the other tracks. There is no standout bit of melody, or a solo moment of instrumental virtuosity that takes it to the next level. Borderline pointless.

It's not a difficult album but it will take more than a few listens to really get it. It gives back ten times the effort you put in. It's music that will end up haunting you for the rest of your life if you like it. And it remains fresh, unique and startling even on the thirtieth listen.

I think it's a deeply impressive album. Artistically it's an 8 out of 10. Value for money etc it's a 10 out of 10. So I'll split the difference and give it an overall score of 9 out of 10.

I have since listened to some songs from Feels by Animal Collective. They did nothing for me.

I first heard this album, at the time of writing, almost eight months ago. I have not come across anything anywhere near as interesting since. This is still my last great musical discovery. Make of that what you will.

I recommend a jazz-rock album called Antelope Freeway by Howard Roberts if you're looking for another strangely moreish album that is a bit rubbish, but rubbish in an interesting way.
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on 6 May 2011
Call me tight but whenever I see an 'album' that consists of a measely seven tracks, I feel chagrin at shelling out my hard earned dollars for such a limited return. Yet, in the case of Braids, each of these wonderfully expansive tracks was worth every penny.

In Native Speaker, this group have crafted a dream-like debut which manages to beguile the listener with various layerings of instrumentation accompanied by bewitching vocals. It is sun-drenched but very far from the sort of saccharine drivel that some purveyors of modern psych-pop are guilty of producing. The opening triumvirate of tracks are immensely engaging, particularly Glass Deers which amounts to the sweetest post binge comedown ever. These songs sprawl but never self-indulgently. Their meandering content is consistently laced with sonic ingenuity, be it well placed harmonies or gentle chimes reminiscent of the most euphoric moments that you can recollect.

The clearest influences I can discern are Animal Collective, for their restless willingness to push and subvert boundaries, and MGMT, for their lush production values and mainstream psych-pop appeal. However, Braids have genuinely crafted a luminous sound that defies easy categorisation (for instance, this jaded listener can even discern elements of The Knife in the closing track Little Hand).

All in all, this is a remarkable debut that promises much. My only reason for not awarding it five stars is because I feel certain that there is still a lot to come from this seductive group.
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