Braids – Deep in the Iris – Album Review

John Preston

John Preston

South London based music obsessive with strong opinions about most things. Doubts Madonna has another good record in her but would love more than anything to be proved wrong.
John Preston

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Flourish // Perish, Braids’ 2013 ghoulishly, appropriately titled album was relentlessly electronic and micro-managed into various cerebral parts which made up several songs approaching a seven-minute play time.

Less than two years later and the Canadian, female-led band, now a trio, have returned with a collection of songs that are far more human and approachable with a new, overriding pop sensibility. Raphaelle Standell-Preston’s cut-glass voice still sounds pained and introspective in places but the accompanying sonics are tighter and more focused, brighter and with poise. They have opened an air-tight studio and with some trepidation, wandered outside.

‘Letting Go’ and ‘Taste’ open the band’s third album and both introduce bold, simple piano chords early on that dominate the entirety of Deep in the Iris. The prominent acoustic instrument on the album, Standell-Preston’s vocals are high in the mix and are also accompanied by the more expected electronic soundscapes that crash and spin elegantly around her. ‘The hardest part is letting go’, Standell-Preston repeats again and again, such is the intention to move on and begin again.

On the mid – nineties electro-pop of ‘Taste’ (listen to northern band Dubstar’s 1995 debut album ,’Disgraceful’, and you can start jointing the dots) the admission of ‘ so I left you, but you’re actually what I like’ part-way identifies the cause of this crisis.

New beginnings are referred to again on what is the most, somewhat ironically, pointedly attention-seeking song on the album, ‘Miniskirt’. An anthem, regardless of its intention, that reinforces the right of any woman to wear what she chooses without fear of male violence. Standell-Preston sings in a way that suggests intense personal distress and history but with recognition that this is a depressingly age-old reaction that still lingers over women, whenever or whatever their experience.

‘It’s not like I’m feeling much different from a woman my age years ago … I’m the slut, I’m the bitch, I’m the whore, the one you hate,’ she sings, over churning keyboards and beats that wind down temporarily to a quiet, piano-only sliver – before Standell-Preston reasserts her self-nominated position of power and dignity.

‘Sore Eyes’ is both the most surprising and fully realised track on Deep in the Iris. The album’s highlight, it surrenders completely to what’s been hinted at throughout and is a relentless, synth-pop stomper that demonstrates just how far the collective writing ability of the band has come.

Built around a gloriously melodic, fantastically plain-speaking chorus about internet porn obsessions and the grubbiness experienced following hours of screen fixation, she sings, ‘Watched some porn and surfed until my eyes got sore again, and now I’m feeling gross and choked like everything I don’t want to be a part of. The girls with balloons and the men with batons, shoving it hard, two people being porn stars’

From ‘Miniskirt’ to the album closer ‘Warm Like Summer’, with its euphoric, ever escalating middle-eight-meshed between drum and bass and ever-soothing piano, the band are on a skilfully orchestrated home run.

‘Getting Tired’ has an assured but downtrodden attitude that could be early Liz Phair with pop-art aspirations. ‘Bunny Rose’, however, with it’s fizzing electro glitches and naggingly catchy chorus of ‘what’s so bad with being alone? I don’t want to aimlessly throw my love around like it’s nothing’, is both rare and thoughtful in its sentiment.

With Deep in the Iris Braids have made an album that is smart and immediate with messages and observations that are harder to find in what is essentially a brilliantly written indie-pop record, it’s one of the best around at the moment.

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