Braids @ Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom

MANHATTAN, NY—Vocalist Raphaelle Standell-Preston and drummer Austin Tufts first met in school in Calgary, Canada, when they were 12; they were comparing belly buttons in the long-jump pit. They had previously seen each other in the school orchestra; he played drums, she played clarinet. A later conversation over a blueberry muffin in a high school cafeteria prompted the formation of a quintet called the Neighbourhood Council, later to be renamed Braids (often stylized as BRAIDS). Tufts has said that the original name was “pretty terrible” and that the name change in 2006 to Braids reflected the band’s “interwoven and interlaced” style. The band had early success backing Standell-Preston in a songwriting contest hosted by the Calgary Folk Music Festival. Braids began receiving international attention with its debut album, 2011’s Native Speaker, which was shortlisted for the 2011 Polaris Music Prize. The art rock band’s second and most recent album, Flourish // Perish, was released in 2013. Braids are currently based in Montreal and are now a trio consisting of Standell-Preston on vocals, synthesizers and guitar, Tufts on drums and Taylor Smith on synthesizers.

Opening for Wye Oak at Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom on May 7, Braids’ music was bundled up in layers. Largely relying on synthesizer tweaks and progressive percussion, the trio produced a soft and dreamy yet intricate collage of sound that owed a debt to shoegaze bands of the 1990s. The largely electronic music was a mesmerizing and experimental haze, manipulating sounds and complicating rhythms to the point where when Standell-Preston was bouncing at her synthesizer, one could wonder which of the polyrhythms she was grooving on. Meanwhile, her gentle pillow-talk vocals delivered sometimes graphic lyrics in feather-light atmospheric and ambient gentility somewhere between curiosity and trance. Snippets of synth lines and percussion ricocheted behind her smooth vocals. The meticulous chill-wave architecture of the compositions was expansive, as rhythms were deconstructed, looped and re-sculpted into a balanced soundscape between chaos and recreation. Braids’ eccentric music fell into a whimsical weirdness that was part wonder and part perplexing.


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