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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Braids - Native Speaker: B+

If there is any reason to listen to Native Speaker, the debut album from this Montreal group, it is for the performance of lead vocalist Raphaelle Standell-Preston. Aside from her ethereal tone and soaring notes, her appeal will become immediately apparent in the first track, “Lemonade”, a song of jitters that coalesces around a chorus that goes, “And what I found is that we/We’re all just sleeping around.” The chorus comes amidst a wash of lightly picked guitars and rolling percussion, an accompaniment that can best be described as dream pop, but hearing Preston sing so candidly about sex, and in the album’s first track no less, and then continue on in later verses (“Well I was joking with my lemonade/I told him to get fucked then get laid.”) is refreshing in contrast to the considerably tame music that surrounds her.

Second and third tracks “Plath Heart” and “Glass Dears” are similarly vocally flippant. Standell-Preston has great fun annunciating the ridiculous line in the second verse of the former, “Didn’t do exactly what you told me/When you scold me/Leads me to implore thee/Golden hole that was surely given/To make beautiful children and push and push and push and push,” and strains her voice to great heights on the latter, making her sound like Arcade Fire’s Regine Chassagne, but outdoing her sass tenfold. In moments, Standell-Preston hurls herself from a delicate coo to a screech. And with the music surrounding her so spacious I can’t help but picture Preston maniacally grabbing at mist as she sings through each song.

The downfall of Native Speaker is that, as the album progresses, the atmosphere that looms over each track increasingly engulfs Standell-Preston. In every song on Native Speaker, some element of her quirkiness shines through, but from “Glass Dears” on, Standell-Preston’s voice is mixed more as just another instrument. The songs of Native Speaker’s second half are by no means bad, but, frankly, they don’t play to the band’s strengths. The final track, “Little Hands” features no vocals at all, and is, as a result, a whimper of a track buoyed by the jangly guitars that I don’t need to tell how many times you’ve heard. It’s the antithesis of the band that burst out the gate on “Lemonade” and is somewhat of a play-it-safe disappointment from a group that I believe is more than capable of maintaining that bombast for a full album.


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