To celebrate the release of No Coast we will be running a different piece on emo greats Braid every day this week. For Day Three: we take a closer look at one of Braid’s best songs, “I Keep A Diary”.
Jukebox Breakdown: Braid – “I Keep A Diary”
by Chad Jewett
Minimalism was never Braid’s aesthetic. The Champaign-Urbana emo quartet was almost always more interested in Jenga-like teetering stacks and subsequent messy tumbles than the neatness of clean lines. Songs like “Ariel” or “The New Nathan Detroits” got their charge from overheating and zig-zagging across every available square foot till there wasn’t an inch of open space to be found. This partly explains why “I Keep A Diary”, the pensive, uncluttered finale of the band’s 1998 classic, Frame & Canvas, is so striking. The preceding album is a bird’s nest; “I Keep A Diary” is, for most of its five-and-a-half minutes, one composed swath of color.
The song is mainly based around a cycling figure of drums and translucent guitar, a compact riff that bends and frays ever so slightly but mainly serves as a rolling surface for Bob Nanna’s rounded tenor. The song’s expansive exterior — which feels especially airy after the wild sprint of the preceding “Breath In” — makes room for Nanna’s hyper-specific scene-setting, the sonic equivalent of long-form text over a spare landscape shot: “10/10/97 / Rock Springs, Wyoming hotel / As far as I can tell / I just don’t miss you anymore.” The lyric is unmistakably Nanna – a combination of fine detail and internally-rhymed wordplay (there are many, many analogues for “hotel/can tell” in Braid’s discography), where a sense of place and surroundings make for a certain kind of melancholy realism.
That curling bit of guitar comes and goes in call-and-response echoes, filling the spaces left between each line, and the chorus operates under a similar see-saw construct: “Come on (come on) / So long (so long) / Move on (move on).” Once again we’re getting spartan bits of half-spoken impressionism at the end of an album defined by expressiveness, words piled on top of words. For most of its runtime, this is how “I Keep A Diary” works, valuing all the notes that aren’t there as much as the ones that are. Eventually, as is the case with most of Braid’s more elliptical, slow-burning songs, “I Keep A Diary” eventually breaks its own tension, bursting into a loud, shaggy coda. Yet at the end of that dust-up the song slowly sheds its layers, eroding back to the precise, whittled riffs and bronzed acoustic strums from which it began.
On Frame & Canvas Braid wasn’t terribly interested in minimalism, but they were clearly taken with deconstruction, with pulling apart the fabrics of punk, hardcore, and pop music and seeing what could be made from the loose threads. On “I Keep A Diary”, the band made that obsession with reverse-engineering literal, taking the ebb-tide poetries of second-wave emo and slow-core and bending them into a circle. That sense of mood, space, and proportion now feels like an early, prototypical glimpse at the brightened balance of No Coast. Back then, it felt like a culmination of one band’s sonic curiosity.