REVIEW: Braid / Frontier(s)
by Chad Jewett
“No Coast,” our second listen from Braid’s long-awaited new LP of the same name, is a spry, rhythm heavy three-and-a-half minutes of warmly weary post-hardcore. The most spacious and algebraic of the songs the Champaign-Urbana emo greats have released since their 2011 return, “No Coast” has the stopped-time arch of a swinging midway ride, pausing at high-points like an uncanny pendulum, offering pockets of near-quiet for singers Bob Nanna and Chris Broach to stamp with quick sparks of melody: “No coast / Is how I feel the most / In the middle / A little invisible, the ghost.” Some forms are returned to – the internal-rhyming that has always been one of Nanna’s signatures (middle/ a little); the sparkling twists of a hardcore riff that etch a bit of atonality amongst the songs gauzy, pleasant major key.
Braid are finding an interesting balance of horizontal pop and back-bending math, “No Coast” unfurling like a half-wrinkled sheet, agreeably worn-in yet never entirely smoothed out. Drummer Damon Atkinson is the song’s real cardiovascular center, finding spaces for quick, arch-rhythmic bursts that appear in the song’s text like exclamation points. “No Coast” also finds the band further investing in the counterpoise to be found between Nanna and Broach as the singers finish sentences and interrupt thoughts, their contrasting voices offsetting in lovely complication. Two tracks into No Coast, it’s becoming less a question of Braid’s returning powers and, instead, a more interesting and promising possibility that this band is finding new and more compelling tools for capturing the complicated ways of feeling that made them great. In other words, “No Coast” and “Bang” are beginning to feel like the front pages of a new classic.
Of the many words one might use to render the contemporary renaissance of post-hardcore music, “compact” feels like an apt one – perhaps “life-sized.” The sound of modern emo is largely humble and shaped to the dimensions of your bedroom. Which means that the expansive, blossoming arc of Frontier(s) (whose core includes members of Elliot, Stay Gold, and Mouthpiece) has the effect of flicking on some lights and realizing the room you’re standing in has no roof. It’s emo that’s aware of the sky overhead. “Bare Hands,” the newest single from the bands forthcoming EP White Lights (via indie world-conquerors Tiny Engines), underlines that expansiveness. Built from long-form stretches of taut, coppery guitar and scraped-up minor key melody, “Bare Hands” has the barbed landscape quality of melodic punk’s mid-Atlantic 1990s – the steely anxiety of Jawbox; the nervous precision of Fugazi; the quiet/LOUD arcs of a generation of noisy VFW sound-sculpture (“Watch ‘em explode” goes one line). Frontier(s)’ sense of dramatic pacing, the band’s grasp on bubbling narrative, places it alongside generational post-hardcore peers like Rival Schools and Fairweather, groups of lifers who have proved adept at maintaining a sharper, more opaque version of emo, an aesthetic more earnestly complicated, richer. “Bare Hands” is all sinew, flexible yet always poised to burst, the sound of potential energy about to become kinetic.