REVIEW: Braid / Little Big League
by Chad Jewett
“Bang,” our first listen from Braid’s upcoming LP, No Coast (their first since the 1998 emo landmark Frame & Canvas), is of a piece with much of what we’ve received from the Illinois post-hardcore legends since their welcome return in 2011. Like the best moments of the gorgeous, wearily-optimistic Closer to Closed, “Bang” is a gauzy, slow-dissolve of airy, melody-rich emo. And like Closer to Closed, “Bang” finds room for the complimentary voices of Bob Nanna and Chris Broach, the plush, rounded baritone of the former offset by the brusque shout of the latter.
Less assertively mathematic than the coiled Frame & Canvas, Braid have softened their sharpest angles into something resembling the curves that rivers carve through valleys. If Braid’s humanism was, once upon a time, rooted in the edgy nerviness of sudden left-turns and anxious confessions, it’s now located in melodies that are almost startlingly clear (and which hang in the air longer than Braid has ever attempted before, giving the whole thing an aura of colors slowly blending, like afternoon into evening), in a rhythm section that lifts and falls sympathetically.
The song’s pace, a sweeping mid-tempo that variably roars and settles into quiet passages of sparkling, curled guitars, is that of an ebb tide, giving the song a gentle sadness that has been the other near constant of Braid’s second act. Bob Nanna seems to have a sense of (and a sense of humor about) the band’s newfound prizing of atmosphere and space (a hold-over from the perennially underrated Hey Mercedes), punctuating the song’s wide-open bridge with “Step slow / Run from the outcome,” a canny crystallization of the ways in which Braid has found a different kind of beauty in easing away from the gymnastics of their 90s output. Instead, the band continues to mine a sort of pleasant melancholy from the new directions to which they’re orienting their instincts for precision and counter-poise. Braid were once lauded for the ways in which their songs operated as canvases, slashed with random color. Now they deserve credit for how adept they’ve become at painting landscapes.
Little Big League
“Year of the Sunhouse”
Michelle Zauner has one of the most compelling voices in punk rock; warmly evocative, wholly elastic, endearingly conversational yet effortlessly tuneful, Zauner is the kind of singer for whom every aside is a hook, every verse could double as a chorus. Her melodies are full of peaks and valleys; phrases are shaped for surprises. These Are Good People, Little Big League’s excellent debut full-length, built taut, twisting emo around those sung narratives. Songs like “Lindsey” sounded like the affable post-hardcore pop of Something To Write Home About dosed with both the serendipity of everyday thoughts and the high drama of Neko Case. It was a stunning mix of perspectives, at once deeply cinematic and casually novelistic.
“Year of the Sunhouse,” from the band’s upcoming split with Ovlov, warms away some of the LP’s abstraction, instead crafting a cozy sunburst of dreamy indie pop that gently tangles at the edges. An analog might be something like Built To Spill’s cloud-pop breakthrough, There’s Nothing Wrong With Love, an album full of similarly quick, dense, water-colored indie songs that, like a pointillist painting, reveal their complicated construction only upon closer and closer viewing. Like fellow Philadelphians The Jazz June, who offered a like-minded interlude of optimistic harmony on their recent “Over Underground”, Little Big League are finding interesting ways of re-shaping the knotted-up aesthetic of emo into something more effervescent and forward-oriented. Thus, while guitars twist their way around Zauner’s radiantly melodic musings on the mixed joys of artistic creation and the tangles of interpersonal politics (Zauner still has a knack for crafting fleet hooks out of lines like “Logical tendency won’t get the best of me / I’m more than a bundle of pain receptors”), they appear in the song’s landscape not as prickly briars but instead like woven blades of grass, smoothly directional with the song’s breezy gait. “Year of the Sunhouse” ends up being an ideal title for a three-minute span of such magnified warmth, a song that beckons you to go outside and figure it out from there.