To celebrate the release of No Coast we will be running a different piece on emo greats Braid every day this week. For Day Four: Our list of five essential albums from Braid side-projects.
FEATURE: 5 Essential Albums from Braid Side-Projects
by Chad Jewett
Like several other bands of emo’s second wave, Braid’s initial, 1999 breakup came with the bright side of several new bands, side-projects, and solos records, all of it good to great. Here is our list of five essential albums from Braid side-projects.
1.) The Firebird Band – The Setting Sun And Its Satellites (2000)
Following Braid’s dissolution two years earlier, Chris Broach — whose contributions to the band always seemed to register as reflecting a VFW-hall-hardcore Lennon to Bob Nanna’s whimsical, emo McCartney — marked a surprising second act in re-focusing on The Firebird Band, an electronic side-project that Broach had begun with his brother Riley in 1996. Wholly underrated (perhaps due to the band’s stark contrast to the organic grit of Braid), revisiting the Firebird Band’s decade-long run of album’s now reveals a running anthology of excellent, challenging indie rock. The best of the bunch is 2000’s The Setting Sun And Its Satellites, an album with all the explosive angularity and interweaving movements of Braid (especially the opening dyad of “The Setting Sun And Its Satellites” and “Nothing Not Dance Party”), but with an added digital sheen and one of the most beautiful album covers of the indie-rock decade.
2.) Hey Mercedes – Every Night Fireworks (2001)
Released on Vagrant Records in 2001, and thus swept up in a three-year burst of late-second-wave emo brilliance that included Something To Write Home About, Stay What You Are, From Here To Infirmary, and On A Wire, Hey Mercedes’ debut album, Every Night Fireworks was swiftly embraced, both by those a bit too young to have caught Braid, and those that responded to the record’s gentler take on algebraic post-hardcore. Led by Bob Nanna and including Braid’s rhythm section of Todd Bell and Damon Atkinson, Hey Mercedes took the pop instincts of Braid’s (then) final release, the Please Drive Faster EP, and ran with them, resulting in the effusive, good-humored Every Night Fireworks. Arriving amongst the more stream-lined likes of Saves the Day and The Get Up Kids, the album felt like a more cerebral, abstracted version of the “Vagrant sound” – forty minutes of those same sweetened Telecasters and punched-up hooks, but bent and curled into pretzel shapes. A decade and a half later, Every Night Fireworks feels like a point of entry for listeners to discover the more difficult records to be found after the embracing sheen of emo’s early 2000’s breakthrough.
3.) Hey Mercedes – Unorchestrated (2005)
“Unorchestrated” was, at least in part, a fitting name for Hey Mercedes final EP. Further ironing out the last wrinkles that remained in the band’s aesthetic on Every Night Fireworks, Unorchestrated was defined by the sort of unfettered forward motion one might associate with Superchunk or 24 Hour Revenge Therapy. On Unorchestrated, Hey Mercedes finally got around to writing pop songs, plain and simple. “Roulette Systems” pairs one of Bob Nanna’s finest melodies to a kinetic sprint of quiet/loud pop-punk; “Warm Chords” felt like some last great The Colour and the Shape B-Side that no one ever got to hear, all streamlined hooks and ankle-breaking stop-starts. The EP closes with a live recording of the EP’s title track, a rendition preceded by a monologue from Waking the Dead, with the band slowly forming around the recording, blurring the line between the melancholy desperation in the clip and the sort of emotional expressionism to be found throughout the EP, Hey Mercedes’ finest collection of songs.
4.) The Firebird Band – The City At Night (2004)
Sanding away the lingering, bracing guitars of The Setting Sun And Its Satellites and replacing them with a broad symphony of keyboards, programming, and synthesized melody, 2004’s The City At Night found The Firebird Band moving further from the center of gravity of Braid and finding deeper possibilities in electricity. The album is distinguished by the salty-sweet contrast of songs like opener “Obsessive Compulsive” which pairs the oblique digital paranoia of Milemarker with the kind of candied keyboards one might associated with The Postal Service or The Unicorns. Elsewhere, “Dangerous” would predict the sort of digitized indie-rock euphoria that would make Phoenix’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix a platinum-selling juggernaut. A generous record of fourteen songs, all ranging into the four, five, and six-minute marks, The City At Night is celebrating a ten-year anniversary ripe for rediscovery.
5.) Certain People I Know – Certain People I Know (2012)
Both an easily-loved dispatch of gently weary emo-pop and a fascinating example of generations meeting in the middle, Certain People I Know, the post-Hey Mercedes quintet co-fronted by Bob Nanna (and including Damon Atkinson on drums), released their sole LP (so far) on Count Your Lucky Stars, one of three or four labels most responsible for the best of today’s emo renaissance. Co-led by Lauren LoPiccolo, Certain People I Know would take the earth-toned indie-rock of Hey Mercedes and open it up to further fresh air, to the point that songs like “Our Lady of Guadalupe” would feature long passages of spare melody and drums that would have been totally alien to the work of Nanna and Atkinson just a decade earlier. As defined by LoPiccolo’s wonderful, expressive alto as the midwestern emo signatures of Nanna, Certain People I Know is a gorgeous next chapter, predictive of the charmed moods of No Coast yet wholly unique in its casually radiant melodicism.