To celebrate the release of No Coast we will be running a different piece on emo greats Braid every day this week. For Day One: Our list of five essential Braid songs.
Starting Five: Braid
by Chad Jewett
“Eulalia, Eulalia”, The Age of Octeen (1996)
For most of their initial run, Braid was known for the kind of quick mathematics one might associate with algebra flashcards. The Age of Octeen, the band’s sophomore LP was constantly pivoting between feral post-hardcore and slow-phasing indie rock, with those seismic changes often coming nearly at random. “Eulalia, Eulalia” simply crystalizes this athleticism in its purest form. Beginning as a lovely passage of glimmering slowcore, combining clean guitars and bittersweet trumpet in a manner predictive of fellow Prairie State emo innovators American Football, the song soon flashes into an effusive, twisting punk rock swoon, as Bob Nanna and Chris Broach variably sing, whisper, and shout over the song’s mid-tempo bursts. Perhaps appropriate for a band that now calls Chicago home, young Braid was a lot like young Derrick Rose – perpetually throwing itself into new motions and sudden, free-jazz changes, stunning you with flexibility and momentum.
“The New Nathan Detroits”, Frame and Canvas (1998)
Atop the pantheon of great second-wave emo intros – the pick-slide of “Holiday,” the dulcet first note of “At Your Funeral,” the Motown-esque snare pickup of “Johnny On The Spot” – lies the gray radio noise and cycling drum figure of “The New Nathan Detroits.” The quick bramble of sound before the song’s unexpected first rush has more or less become a hall-of-fame post-hardcore moment. The first song from the utterly essential 1998 album Frame & Canvas, “The New Nathan Detroits” found a leaner, more muscular Braid (lets keep the metaphor going and say Taj Gibson), who, with the help of post-hardcore sound-sculptor J Robbins, expanded the advances of The Age of Octeen with deeper low-end and sharper hooks. You can find all of this in the sharp, masterful “The New Nathan Detroits,” all Fugazi angles and cerebral sing-along catchphrases (“If you wanna be a martyr / Try harder!). So memorable as to be iconic, the opening track of Frame & Canvas could easily double as one of the five or ten greatest emo songs ever recorded.
“You’re Lucky To Be Alive” (1999)
Like many of Braid’s greatest songs, “You’re Lucky To Be Alive” was released after the band’s 1999 breakup. Unlike those other songs, “You’re Lucky To Be Alive” was initially understood as Braid’s final recorded track. At the time the song sounded like another bit of sonic evolution after the advances of Frame & Canvas. As sharp and well-constructed as that album, but with an increased attention to space, pace, and melody, the song was a bittersweet last missive from the band, one that promised an amazing second chapter never to be written. Where Nanna and Broach had previously let their voices scrape and volley against one another, on “You’re Lucky To Be Alive” they bended into compelling harmonies. Where the quiet/loud of earlier Braid songs was pitched toward discord, here gauzy verses lifted into swelling choruses. In a sense, the song laid a road-map for the sweetened emo to come from Saves the Day and Taking Back Sunday. In another sense it was wholly unique, a carefully crafted balance of sugar and salt. Braid had bowed out on its first great pop song.
“Do Over”, Closed to Closed (2011)
The second song from Braid’s unexpected return EP, 2011’s Closer to Closed, “Do Over” more or less summarized the tenor of the short record, crystalizing the EP’s self-reflexive narratives of reunion, recuperation, and empathy. Indeed, the entirety of Closer to Closed more or less seemed to be about Braid getting back together, but “Do Over” was arguably the most transparent in this regard. Over an effusive, cycling major key Bob Nanna shares his complicated feelings about second chances. Deeply affecting in its plumbing of complex, adult emotions and the realities of passing time, “Do Over” re-introduced us to Braid by giving the band room to reintroduce themselves to eachother.
“Bang”, No Coast (2014)
Beginning with elliptical strands of guitar that, funnily enough, recall the more impressionist moments of The Age of Octeen, before shifting into a radiant, climbing expanse of spectral post-hardcore, “Bang” offers a three minute crash course in the warm, embracing aesthetic of No Coast. Like much of the album, the song finds Bob Nanna and Chris Broach finishing each other’s sentences and offering melodies that fold and mirror like parallel lines. Consisting of long stretches of harmony and open space (a contrast to the more coiled moodiness of The Age of Octeen or the compact, hyperactivity of Frame & Canvas) and finding room for moments as light as a whisper and as outsized as a fireworks display, “Bang” finds Braid in an increasingly magisterial mood, unafraid to stretch out and breathe.