Native Speaker

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Depending on whatever aspect of Braids' music captures listeners at any moment, they call to mind widely varied influences. Over the course of their debut, Native Speaker, shades of Animal Collective, Björk, Karen O, the Cocteau Twins, Siouxsie Sioux, and Yeasayer pop up in the most improbable combinations, making for unpredictable -- and sometimes thrilling -- listening. Opening track “Lemonade” defines the band’s sound, from its intricate instrumentation to its free-flowing structure to Raphaelle Standell-Preston's angelic voice, which coos surprisingly profane lyrics like “Have you fucked all the stray kids yet?” Standell-Preston's singing and the band’s playing are both forces to be reckoned with, but for most of Native Speaker they work together instead of competing with each other. “Glass Deers” suggests a less-weird Sugarcubes (even with Standell-Preston's insistently trilled refrain “I’m fucked up”), while “Same Mum” gives the band’s sound a tropical lilt. Still, some of the album’s best moments happen when Braids calm down a little. The album’s sensual title track shows how ably the band can make eight minutes feel like half that, with softly encompassing drones and erotically inclined vocals. “Lammicken” takes the band’s sound in an enticingly different direction that sounds like filter disco and dream pop blurred together, as Standell-Preston sings “I can’t stop it” in countlessly different ways. As intriguing as Native Speaker is, it’s not perfect: Standell-Preston's vocals can border on grating, and sometimes the band’s approach feels formless instead of abstract. Nevertheless, Braids' uniquely feminine experimental pop is largely a success.

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