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BRAIDS Let A Little Too Loose at Empty Bottle

By Kim Bellware in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 16, 2011 4:20PM

BRAIDS lead singer and guitarist Raphaelle Standell-Preston (Chicagoist/Kim Bellware)
Like many famous actors and artists, Canadian rockers BRAIDS (not to be confused with Bob Nanna's influential emo group) packed up from their hometown, moved to a new city and changed their name to make it big. Once hailing from Calgary, BRAIDS performed as The Neighborhood Council before heading to Montreal and assuming a new moniker.

Yet even if BRAIDS had a name that was so easy to confuse, there'd be no mistaking their sound on account of frontwoman Raphaelle Standell-Presto's distinctive voice. Tuesday night at the Empty Bottle BRAIDS demonstrated that while vocals may be their most distinguishing trait, they're also the biggest liability.

In their debut album (as BRAIDS), Native Speaker, the group uses all the atmospheric echos and effects on their keys, drums and guitars typical of really good dream-pop. BRAIDS lacks the scale and intricacy of fellow Montrealers Arcade Fire, but comparisons are still bound to be drawn given the lush, orchestral pop effects, whole band vocal efforts and the hard-to-forget female vocalist.

From the beginning of Tuesday's performance, the band struggled to find the right balance in their sound, working adjustment requests into their songs with semi-discreet thumbs up/thumbs down gestures on more than a few songs, Katie Lee's keys and everyone else's vocals but Standell-Presto's were all but background muffle.

Through a few tweaks and changes, BRAIDS hit points of brilliance in their set, especially with their track "Glass Deers," with Standell-Presto humming a crisply enunciated lyrical chant "fucked up again" to the the trilling keyboard and bass. The acrobatic way Standell-Presto moves from Betty Boop-like coo to a Merrill Garbus-like growl is a little startling, but tremendously fascinating.

Standell-Presto, who sounds undeniably pretty on album, sang with less restraint live, taking the delicacy of a few songs. In the best moments her singing was like silk unfolding; in the worst moments, it was as if a brick had shattered a window.

Still, BRAIDS' vocals as a whole filtered through squawk box and echo effects meshed well with layers of just four instruments that sounded like an orchestra. Moments during "Plath Heart" and "Lemonade," it sounded like Phil Spector was twisting the knobs at the sound board.

Since BRAIDS' songs tend to run on the long side with slowly building and decreasing starts and finishes, their album was smartly sequenced to effect one long dream-pop loop. When the songs were played out of order (not unusual for a live show, of course) some of the flow was lost and songs that should have flowed seemed to stall.

If anything, Tuesday was an "okay" performance by a really great band--and the end result? Still pretty good.