Sunday, April 25, 2021

A Tangle In Progressivist Rock 'Braids - Snow Angel'

I perk up when hearing of any act describing itself as ‘art’ or ‘prog rock’, this 21st century. There is something endearingly brazen in reviving that long-discarded genre. My last encounter was with Dirty Projectors, this time it’s with Canadian trio, Braids

Formed fifteen years ago as The Neighbourhood Council in Calgary, they’ve since marketed themselves as ‘Montréal-based’ since their relocation in 2008. A wise move, given that wonderful city, was also home to the great prog orchestra, God Speed Ye Black Emperor!. In the Canadian context, Montréal has the snoot and the swagger. 

Braids are Raphaella Standell-Preston (lead vocals, guitar, keys), Taylor Smith (bass, guitar, vocals, percussion), and Austin Tufts (drums, vocals). They make for a tighter and accomplished combo, shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize in 2011 for their album, Native Speaker, to back up their chops..

From last year’s album, Shadow Offering, ‘Snow Angel’ opens in a warmly toned Moog-synth arpeggio articulating an equally simple but very intelligent chord progression. There is something of The Well-Tempered Clavier sounding out the end of that old Rush album, Signals

Fading in is the see-sawing chime of an electric guitar two-note motif that is, in the best sense, straight out of an early U2 recording. Once at full-tilt, the backline drops in, which Tufts drives with the tasteful economy, building the anticipation of Standell-Preston’s entrance. 

And she sings beautifully: a warm, elegant, and soaring style weaving in and around what is very solid architecture. A stripped-back structure – essentially a chord-sequence continuum with an extended vocal phrasing above. No verse, no chorus. It’s all very appealing.  

But all things must pass. In true Canadian fashion (take it from a washed-up Canuck), an unravelling into the inferno of Socio-Enviro Conscience. As one becomes subject to a two-minute stream-of-consciousness diatribe of environmental doom and white-privilege guilt, I can not decide which is more tedious, the sentiment or its predictability. When this is said too often, the words are stripped of their depth:

‘The polar bears floating away on a brick of ice… What have we done to them?’

Whatever the case, all resumes as it began, seeing the tune out in a more cathartic mood with the lyrics turning to sunnier lands between major chords. Same progression, same phrasal structure. The effect is soothing, redemptive, and does well to salvage the song from what felt like an impending political cliché.  

As for ‘art’ or ‘prog rock', it’s a sad day when polar bears come to replace Carpet Crawlers. But I guess that’s progress, for you. No more room for fantasy and escape, given the urgency of things. Roger Dean can join those bears.

David Adamick


Image: The FADER

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