Braid was a band from Champaign-Urbana, Illinois that can be categorized with other early 90’s acts with a guitar driven, aggressive sound. They have the energy and abrasive timbre of Snapcase, the edgy stop-start math rock leaning of Polvo and sometimes the catchy hooks of Husker Du. Their sounds also exploits the kind of jumbled mess of guitars and screams that are each freely exploring all the possibilities of a chosen melodic and harmonic line. Somewhere between near all out improv and solid structure the band seems to be most comfortable constantly pulling themselves off in all different directions.
The band’s debut full-length album “Frankie Welfare Boy Age Five” is packed with short bursts of energy that are contained within a rush of loud, boisterous songs fueled by an urgency of fast, distorted guitars careening through 2 minutes of screamed vocals. The tracks are broken up by the constant turning of a radio dial that is sometimes interrupted by short ideas that are faded up, but quickly turning to new songs. Braid cuts through the noise of the radio dial with a noise of their own.
Through “Frankie Welfare Boy Age 5” there are many straight forward aggressive punk tracks like “Summer Salt” which is 2 and a half minutes of hardcore punk. “X Marks the Hope Box” leans a bit more towards math-rock with its running guitar line dashing across the fretboard frenetically that is doubled by the drums in stop-start fashion that is continued with the track “Brass Knuckle Sandwich”.
There is a lot of content on the album, showing the band in a steady trajectory. They are stretching out within songs but remaining true to their hard core sound, standing on the very edge of math rock and early emo-core. At the Drive-In would later tread a very similar path with their work.
With “Movie Music Vol. 1” their work becomes a bit more polished. Songs are lengthier, more developed and structured into parts that fit neatly together, dovetailing with catchy hooks that are begging to be screamed en masse. The guitars on this album seem to stay out of the way of each other. More room is made for the bass, and dynamically the band is more in control. On this album they make use of a broader sonic pallet and embrace more of a loud/quiet/loud characteristic that is added to the stop-start urgency of their songwriting which makes everything that much more powerful. They make room for each other, take their time and even show a much more reserved and quiet side with the track “Radish White Icicle” with its gently strummed guitar and light brass arrangement in the background. All of this growth of songwriting results in a more solidified sound that is thicker and more reinforced instead of wandering. Despite this their sound in general remains completely intact and easily recognizable.
Through all of this noise of guitars and punk rock attitude there is an honesty and sincerity added to the music through vocals that are untouched by effects, standing completely out in the open, totally vulnerable. The recordings have that lo-fi, home-recorded sound to them that is lacking in today’s uber-commercial and overproduced “emo” music. Braid’s music was not of gimmicks and trend, it was music of honesty and emotion before those elements became a musical commodity.
The fact that Polyvinyl has seen it fit to re-release each of Braid’s albums speaks to the importance of their output. They come from an era of music just before it was easy for word to spread through the internet. Their success was purely word of mouth built upon a reputation of touring and recording, yet their influence on other bands can still be heard today.
For more information on Braid, and to hear tracks, but most importantly to purchase their re-releases (which are nearly 50% sold out!) head over to Polyvinyl right now.