Braids - Deep in the Iris

by Justin Pearson Rating:9 Release Date:2015-04-27

Canadian three-piece Braids have upped the ante with their tasteful brand of experimental pop on Deep in the Iris, their third and best album yet. Where debut Native Speaker and follow-up Flourish // Perish both relied on an almost exclusively experimental aesthetic, what we get here is a focus that retains traces of the former while bathing itself in a renewed confidence.

Compelling in its deliberation, nothing sounds accidental or out of place. This is evident from the beginning as the beats on opener 'Letting Go' jerk and stutter alongside occasional electric guitar droplets. Uncertainty takes a back seat even amid the usual shakiness of starting over; there's a melodic eloquence that highlights the grace inherent in the song's theme of forgiveness as Raphaelle Standell-Preston repeats the mantra: "The hardest part is letting go."

'Blondie' raises goosebumps in the manner of an amusement park ride: slow at first, then whipping into a frenzy of drum 'n' bass that dizzies with Standell-Preston's strong vocals as the propellant: "And I will find a way/ and I will leave this place... See me running from the place where I thought I could hide." It's simultaneously wild and disciplined. Deep down you know you're gonna be fine, but your adrenaline tells you otherwise - hence the thrill.

There's an inviting openness all over the album. Sonic flourishes dot the landscape, lending a sense of awe that feels wondrously alien, but never hostile. This is especially noticeable on 'Happy When'. Standell-Preston sings with a sweet restraint, backdropped by a sky full of synth blinks and beats that twinkle like stars. She eventually succumbs to the song's building emotion and uncannily channels Cocteau Twin's Elizabeth Fraser as she wails "I spun around 'til I fell down/ Blood upon my knees as I kneel down."

The clear centerpiece of the album is 'Miniskirt'. Lyrically confrontational and vocally spot-on, it's a deft exercise in combining meaning and melody. Standell-Preston tackles slut-shaming while proudly owning (and paying tribute to) her and other women's senses of self: "Liberated is what you wanna call it/ How about unfairly choked... I am not a man hater/ I enjoy them like cake."

To all these "womanisers", "cassanovas" and "lotharios", she defiantly gives them the what-for should they dare to criticize: "My little miniskirt/ think you can have it/ My little miniskirt/ is mine, all mine." It's a rock solid example of words and music working together perfectly to form what everyone wants from any new ablum: that one great song.

A coy melody that tickles with its allure, 'Getting Tired' is another standout. Floating gracefully as a ghost, the piano and vocal-line rise up and down in a parallel conversation where one always slightly lags behind the other. The staggered drumming drives it forward to a sleepy destination that's as warm as crawling under the covers on a lazy afternoon.

The album's most upbeat moments happen near the end. 'Sore Eyes' is a dance number that cleverly hides its pornography-as-subject-matter under club-ready bass and delicate click-clacking that gets the fingers snapping.

The sensual, yet equally groovy 'Bunny Rose' humorously - yet honestly - suggests that being alone with a canine companion is more desirable than a human love that isn't true and pure: "So what's so bad with being alone/ While we're living I don't want to aimlessly throw my love around like it's nothing/ Maybe I could just have a dog..."

Jazz-tinged, aptly-titled 'Warm Like Summer' works nicely as the closing track. Warm and refreshing like the season itself, it's placed perfectly as the last echo of a record that deals in similar themes of confronting the heat of life and then embracing it. As Standell-Preston sings with breathy assurance "You're always in my heart," one can't help but feel the same about the entire album.

What's perhaps most striking about Deep in the Iris is its acute sense of balance between an ethereal looseness and a grounded, earthy firmness. This thoughtfully executed blend has resulted in a fine album, and any subsequent accolade is well deserved.

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