Braids – Shadow Offering: Album Review

Braids offer up an orchestral, ambient adventure which gives you a listening experience which is equally challenging and comforting.

Released: 19th June 2020

Label: Secret City Records

Format: CD / LP / Digital

On the opening track of Braids 4th album, singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston pleads ‘I’m here for you, even if you don’t want me to be’. She may not be sure, but I am. Please stay. Because Braids are the music of mutual (if sometimes confrontational) therapy. They tell their deeply intimate tales of lost love and anxiety, and we, in return, bask gratefully in sonic soul-searching of our own. 

The belated release of this album is very welcome indeed. The messages of Standell-Presron ‘diving deeper into frustrations and anxieties about her internal and external worlds’ couldn’t really be more prescient. This coupled with the orchestral, ambient adventure which is the very nature of every Braids song, give you a listening experience which is equally challenging and comforting.

The choice of singles released in the lead up to the album give you a flavour of the eclectic aural adventurings you get with any Braids music. First single ‘Eclipse (Ashley)’ is a lilting, reflective and occasionally angsty ballad which makes you feel like you’ve been wrapped inside a blanket made of Kate Bush albums on a glorious Spring day. In contrast, second single ‘Young Buck’ is electro-80s pulser that could’ve been easily lifted straight from the Drive soundtrack.

And then you have ‘Snow Angel’ a 9-minute opus ‘written in the immediate wake of the 2016 US election, as our collective conscience took a sharp inhale… a snapshot of the mind grappling with our era’s endless barrage of content and destruction, continents away and close to home.’ Somewhat unsurprisingly this song has taken on a new context in the midst of a pandemic, speaking ‘to feelings many of us are experiencing – uncertainty, angst and a desperate desire to make sense of it all.’ It’s a stream of consciousness, switching from sung to spoken word, gloriously claustrophobic and tense. Standell-Preston almost hyperventilating that ‘it’s a feeling where I wonder if everything is gonna be okay…and when I say everything, I’m not talking about my little everything, my little life, I mean the planet.’

And then you breathe. You’ve been taken on a journey. It hasn’t been easy, but you’ve learnt some things about yourself. This is a record where ‘listeners traverse a nuanced and complicated world: one full of beautiful contradictions’ ; tapping into vivid narratives to connect to a self-reflective part of yourself that you didn’t realise was lurking below the surface of your musical emotions.

The album ends with a little bit of happiness in simplicity – ‘walking down the street, I felt such joy to be alive’. Over the off-kilter beats of closing track ‘Note to Self’ there is a plea to get back to basics – ‘there is no reason, just breath and a beating of the heart. One foot in front of the other, then the other, that’s all’. Some days, these days, that is more than enough.

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