It’s a peculiar thing, how one’s fate often finds itself intertwined in the most unexpected of ways with individuals that seemingly have no connection to one’s personal narrative. In one brief, humbling instance the universe reveals to us a cosm of possibilities that we, in our struggles to assign meaning to the mundane, could never have anticipated for ourselves. It was in one such instance that a lonely, misguided teenaged youth perched precariously on a ledge over the hustle and bustle of the Bangkok metropolis happened upon a song that pierced through the haze of his inner confusion and injected into his forlorn veins a beam of pure, unadulterated hope. It has been almost five years since ‘Peach Wedding’ first graced my weary eardrums with its rapturous gospel of barely decipherable angel speak. Since then BRAIDS have gone on to release three studio albums, each of which reflect the band’s progression from a highly reverb-saturated powerhouse built on walls of sound, through the haunting bleakness of their 2013 release ‘Flourish // Perish’, up until their newest album ‘Deep in the Iris’, in which the years of growth and maturation through which they have persevered come to a masterful climax.
Having listened to the band sparingly, and choosing not to research the personal lives of the artists until only recently, I feel as though I have had the chance to develop a true appreciation for the music without the biases of background information to sway my judgement. It wasn’t until I found out through Facebook that Mind The Gap were bringing BRAIDS to perform in Bangkok did I freak the hell out and start watching interviews and looking up all the articles I could find about these Calgary cool cats. I was totally psyched to find an interview in which front woman Raphaelle Standell-Preston expressed her appreciation for peaches and their numerous health benefits. With this in mind I made my way to the venue, bag of peaches in hand, hoping that perhaps I would get the chance before or after the show to pass on my offering to the event staff to give the band. I certainly did not expect to find myself seated at a table with drummer Austin Tufts, discussing the finer points of the music making process and the themes and motifs that play important roles in the BRAIDS experience.
It was surreal, yet so real. After years of deifying the divine beings that made the transcendental sound that had sustained me through struggle and took my hand to lead me away from the maddening drudgery of local radio, here I was face to face with the creators themselves. I tried my best to put on my least stalker-like demeanor (at no expense to my sincerity I assure you) and extended to Austin my gift of Saturn peaches. It was well received! I had a bite myself, though I am no connoisseur I reckon they were up to scratch.
I listened intently as Austin recounted his travels in Asia. I was ever so relieved to see that he had clearly been having an absolute blast touring around the East. It would have been soul destroying for me if he had had a bad time in my home city. The band had just arrived in Thailand that morning at around 10:00 AM and had a flight to catch to Singapore after the show at 6:00 AM. Let us take a moment to appreciate how hard these guys are working to bring us their music. After some curry and a volatile papaya salad, we went inside to the stage where Monomania, a local band, was starting the night off with some nicely layered guitar echoes and balladesque vocals running through a KAOSS pad. Austin agreed with me that some of the chord progressions were pretty neat. I made the faux pas of comparing them to Radiohead, but in my defense one of the songs totally resembled ‘Nude’.
After Monomania finished their set I went to take my place by the stage next to where Taylor Smith – bass, guitar, percussion, malletkat, vocals (according to Wikipedia) – had his launch pad and novation midi controller set up. When time came for them to take the stage I cheered along with a full room. These are my favourite gigs. The intimate ones where its small enough to really get a good look at the gear. Especially in a venue lie Moose, which could best be described as ‘hunting cabin chic,’ with its taxidermy animals adorning the minimalistic decor.
The show itself is difficult to do justice without slipping into the realm of outright worship. They began gently, following the ‘Deep in the Iris’ album track list. It was amazing to hear how tastefully they had refined their sound. The echoes and reverb were used far more conservatively than in the days of ‘Peach Wedding’ but were far from understated. The synth sounds Taylor was making as he played his launch pad as though it were a keyboard, whilst simultaneously hammering notes on his guitar, must have been going through one sophisticated filter because at its peaks it was intense but not shrill, and at its troughs it was deep but not muddy. As Raphaelle sang ‘Taste’, the second song in the set list, I saw that notorious dynamic vocal range of hers start to come into play. Flitting between soothing warbles and soaring bellows with the ease and precision of a true professional, her sweet and innocent sounding voice somehow managed to be both endearing and daunting at once.
I would describe the overall tonal progression of the set as starting off in a somewhat resigned fashion, as though in reflection of a great acceptance of one’s path. The set then moved gradually into darker, moodier territory, though at no point did this become overbearing. It seemed as though just before my heart could bear no more inner turmoil, a cathartic shift would occur in which the listener would be redeemed by a sudden upward gust of revitalizing hope. I found myself caught in this riptide of sonic adventure for most of the performance and had to fight back tears at at least five different points of the evening.
The ending song needs its own paragraph. Here’s why. ‘Miniskirt’ is a masterpiece. Musically, lyrically, spiritually sublime. Please note the analysis that follows is my own interpretation and is not based in any way on what the band members themselves have said about the song. Sung from the perspective of a girl child caught in the midst of an ugly divorce, the song starts off strong as the misogynistic orientation of society is brought directly to the forefront of the listener’s psyche. The descending chord progression mirrors the downward spiral in which the singer is caught between the destructive male influences in her life and the powerless mother figure that hasn’t the means by which to defend her daughter from the fallout of her dying relationship. The blatant discrepancies between the consequences for sexual expression between males and females are made clear as the labels of ‘womanizer, Casanova, lothario’ are juxtaposed to ‘slut, bitch, whore’. The sense of entitlement that the loathsome modern male feels toward womankind is highlighted by the ironic likening of the singer’s ‘little miniskirt’ to justification for such entitlement, as though by choosing to adorn oneself in slightly provocative attire one welcomes the abuse of the un-fairer sex. I would like to point out that despite these powerful messages the singer maintains her composure and states that she is not a ‘man-hater’ and this I believe to be sincere, judging by the tone of her voice and the sounds with which the band chose to convey these lyrics. There occurs a profound shift in tone. The minor chords fade away into distant reverberations as the bleakness dissipates into thin air with the introduction of what I can only describe as being the purest synth sound I have heard since the likes of Nathan Fake’s ‘Paean’ and the late Susumu Yokota. Austin then comes in with a high-energy beat that serves to build the charge of the piece as Taylor’s synthesizer starts to sweep between low and high frequencies during the build up.
Raphaelle’s lyrics at this point, if not heart-wrenching before, now reach all new highs of unapologetic honesty. I scoff at the man who does not believe her when she says ‘I know what it’s like to have everything taken away from me’. The piece then progresses into a tragic ballad about the grueling process of recovering from such a dire situation. There is a sudden ceasefire on the part of the drums when the synths go into overdrive to reflect the frightening destructive force of the man whom Raphaelle describes as devouring her mother’s soul ‘with a grin’. The break down then resumes with each kick of the bass drum poundi
ng truth into my body, each crash of the cymbal exorcising the darkness from my soul. I’m not sure if Raphaelle actually spent exactly nine months in a women’s shelter or if the nine-month duration is used to symbolize her rebirth (or both?) but the metaphor was not lost to me. There then occurs a section in which the acknowledgement of mortality is reached, ‘We’re all going… never know when’ wherein the synth again returns to a gentler sound. At the end the miniskirt motif is repeated as if to remind the listener what started this whole tragic line of events in the first place.
The sweeping presence of the song makes it the perfect choice for a show closer with the tonal progression mimicking the whole set really well. This band rocks. In no uncertain terms, if you haven’t already, do everything within your power to make sure you see these guys live.