In the 16-odd years since Braid invigorated a generation of jaded teenagers with ‘Frame and Canvas’, an LP which regularly creeps-in alongside American Football and EndSerenading on many a ‘pioneering emo records’ Tumblr list, a lot has changed. Main-man Bob Nanna successfully discovered his real birth parents for starters; a union that revealed a rich musical lineage (referenced at the start of the bouncing ‘Light Crisis’), the kind of life-affirming event that you’d love to be able to write about if you’re 20 and trying to write a classic between a day job and a panic attack. To that end, Braid aren’t trying to sound like they’re still in 1993 anymore – these are dudes with mortgages and kids, writing music because it makes sense to them. It’s a grown-up album from grown-ups but addressed to everyone, whether you’re a well-versed veteran of the ‘90s sleeping-on-floors movement or a kid organising DIY basement shows after school. No Coast, in many respects, is the wise old owl. ‘I’ll tell you how it ends’, says secondary vocalist & guitarist Chris Broach dryly on the glorious ‘End End Hollows’.
But, whilst Braid have been there and done that, there’s still a youthful, playful energy that elevates No Coast to being almost ‘jaunty’ – indeed, Nanna, Broach, Bell and Atkinson are like poster-boys for Friend Reunited at times, merrily twisting together seamlessly aimless polyrhythms into sing-a-long summer anthems. Lighter, catchier than Frame and Canvas, but every bit as cohesive. No, there’s no deep-seeded sense of bitterness or resentment here, despite the obvious themes of hollow friendship on ‘Many Enemies’ or the wry smile of the pulsating ‘Damages!’. Even then, the vivacity of the music is infectious, enough to paint a sun-kissed border around these rekindled moments of anxiety. Nanna and Broach collaborated in great detail to capture a sound that speaks to their both their Illinois upbringing and the angularity of their early discography, but were very careful not to have it falsely propped up by ideas and themes that they’ve long since outlived.
This attitude is chiefly reflected in No Coast’s rounded indie-punk edges, but you perhaps glean the most from subtle moments of self-indulgence. Note the nostalgic extra chorus that drops in at the end of the title track, a euphoric reprise that gives Broach and Nanna a few more precious seconds of jamming it out together like they used to. Broach’s sharp, nasal (kinda) delivery and Nanna’s unassuming penchant for swooning melodies is positively dizzying throughout, and affords No Coast with a variety to match the mazy nature of the stop-and-go time signatures prevalent most noticeably on ‘Put Some Wings on That Kid’ and ‘Lux’. Indeed, none of Braid’s love for complex song structures has been lost in the time they’ve been away, with spindling guitar licks and dancing fills worming their way between every last word. That’s another one too – words. No Coast is undoubtedly anecdotal, and ‘East End Hollows’ indicates that Braid have accepted that they cannot control how they’ll be perceived. ‘Another drink, another lifetime of regret. Another song so we can sing along’ we hear. It’s wrapped in ambiguity of course, but what I hear is a band conscientious of their reputation trying really hard not to fuck it up.
It’s that flight-or-fight response that inevitably spurs No Coast on like a whip to a thoroughbred. Here’s a band trying to reconnect with the people that gave them their street-cred by embracing their ordinary lives – not in a fawning ‘take me back, baby’ kinda way, but more in a ‘it’s been a while, dudes’ kinda way. It works, too, and at the same time a whole new generation of listeners will inevitably find themselves spiralling into the Braid backstory; a beautiful cycle that fits snugly into the highly-cultivated Topshelf mantra. For Braid themselves, they probably don’t see things in such perfect narrative dovetails if their iterative and patchwork methods are anything to go by. But, the driving candle-in-the-air closer ‘This is Not a Revolution’ is almost so on-the-nose that I start to doubt myself. What I think they’re saying, and this applies to how I feel about this record as a whole, is this: “Hey, we’re older and we’ve learnt a lot but we’re still in love with making music”.
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