REVIEW // Braids – Companion EP (Arbutus Records)

braids

This article originally appeared on God Is In The TV

On their debut LP Deep in the Iris, Canadian electronic trio Braids decided to place the track ‘Miniskirt’ almost exactly in the album’s middle, centring it in the listener’s mind. It saw frontwoman Raphaelle Standell-Preston at her most lyrically powerful and forthright, singing “it’s like I’m wearing red and if I am/ You feel you have the right to touch me/ Cause I asked for it/ In my little miniskirt.” It was a moment of raw emotion surrounding gender politics and rape that suggested there was a lot more going on beneath the beats and synths. Then, earlier this month, Standell-Preston published “Reclamation Through a Microphone” via Pitchfork, an essay that detailed how songwriting had helped her come to terms with sexual abuse.

Standell-Preston’s revelations were undoubtedly brave, and help to provide a greater appreciation of her dynamic lyrical contributions to Braids. On the title track to their new EP Companion, her words are placed at the forefront, her strained and emotive voice accompanied only by the deep drone of a singular synth. She weaves a tale of a lost childhood friend, but keeps things intriguingly abstract. “Cute chubby kid/ That hated to swim/ Remember when I pushed you in/ You were surprised that you floated,” she muses, leaving the disturbing possibility that her character accidentally drowned the child unresolved. It’s probably the bleakest track Braids have ever produced.

Like a bookend to the mini collection, ‘Sweet World’ delves back into these darkened areas of the psyche, accompanied by breathy electronics, melancholic piano and skittering beats. Standell-Preston initially hints at a regenerative healing process: “I’m so glad I was upstairs painting my new room/ Everything is changing/ And it feels so right this time.” But by the end of the verse things take a dark turn as she sings “see that pole jutting out of the corner/ Sometimes I wanna tie my neck up/ Let my limp limbs dangle down.” Her girlish cooing contrasts against her own suicidal thoughts, which is genuinely distressing.

The sparse, minimal ‘Trophies For Paradox’ is the only track that explicitly touches on gender politics. Standell-Preston’s voice is at its most muted and contemplative here as its opening lines declare “he came in like a winner/ Strong and slim/ Trophies in his grin/ I can see him taking wind of what it would be like/ To lie with me,” a story beginning with lust that descends into sheer frustration as time, their relationship – and the song – goes on. As if to grant the collection some lightness, buoyant, almost retro beats punctuate ‘Joni,’ the chorus erupting into a frenzy of cymbal clashes. It’s also the most seemingly positive tracks in terms of the lyrics, suggesting Braids still very much have the capacity to make a killer pop song.

What’s remarkable about Companion is that it’s entirely made up of songs that didn’t quite fit into Deep in the Iris. It’s a diverse and challenging set of songs, with the added light and shade punctuating the melodies in each track arguably making this an even more compelling record. It is also a potent attestation of Standell-Preston’s songwriting ability and her remarkable strength of character in the face of unimaginable adversity.

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