CMJ Day Four: Weekend, Braids
Better than: Being cannibalized on a remote mountaintop by hungry plane crash survivors.
Through wildly different approaches, Weekend and Braids attempt to sculpt existing continental upheaval into massive monoliths of sound. The two bands co-headlining Friday night’s Brooklyn Vegan CMJ Showcase share few similarities. But both Weekend, with its noise-soaked, kraut-inflected new wave and shoegazey punk, and Braids, with a surrealistic worldview and electronic lushness, planted firm flags on preexisting yet critically reshaped musical landmasses.
Weekend were accordingly gigantic. The San Francisco-based trio stood as far apart from each other as they could on stage, a commanding look that also helped each musician lose himself in his own world. The distance between the band members and the utter darkness of the room made communication seem impossible, so it was all the more impressive that the music came together. The distant vocals, motorized drum beats, and clanging dissonance of the guitar created a compressed, exhilarating rush. You couldn’t always feel where the wind was coming from, but as the different currents came together it was like a jet stream; the uncompromising uniformity of the combined elements directed you to where it was going. The band ended with an ear-bleeding noise-off between the guitarist and bass player that seemed like it could have gone on indefinitely. If only the sound techs hadn’t turned off the amps.
At times, Braids drummer Austin Tuft was the only semblance of an organic part in the band, with each other sound created being recast like porous clay. Guitarist, percussionist, and sound tweaker Taylor Smith’s guitar never quiet sounded like the instrument we know, each pick attack eliciting texture or emboldened melodies through many different sonic prisms, and often lead singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston’s heavenly voice mutated and warbled away into the atmosphere once run through the maze of stomp-box circuitry. But the often jammy yet forceful playing of Tufts brought together the dreamworld, throwing a harness around ones waist as the audience was playfully pushed down the rabbit hole. On songs like the moralistic monologue “Plath Heart,” Standell-Preston’s delivery felt very thematic and colloquial in its directness, even if the bird chirps and ascendant bellows were straight out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. That encouraged engagement with listeners; her handholding romp through unfamiliar yet inviting territory elicited a dialogue with the audience, even if it was mostly one-sided. The band’s pacing and dynamics rose and fell, adding to the experience of a journey. On the bubbly, head-bopping “Lemonade,” the ebb and flow between austerity and squirmy complexity perplexed assumptions. Instead of step-by-step directions, both bands led listeners with a clue-filled treasure map to their towering destinations.
Critical bias: Braids’ Native Speaker stumbled onto into my ears one night working late, and has since become a go to wee-hours soundtrack.
Overheard: “Play an encore!”—The guy reeking of Jagermeister and screaming at Braids as they packed up their equipment and headed off stage.
Random notebook dump: Active Child was pretty stunning. His ringing harp added textural plinks and raindrop melodies, mitigating the band’s thickness and his Antony-like vocals.