Braid and other exuberant-yet-heartbroken bands that exploded out of the Warped Tour circuit in the late ’90s/early ’00s often struggled to keep up with the demand of an ever-shifting fan base. They can’t keep cranking out teenage angst once they’ve settled down with a family and mountains of cash (or, in some cases, mountains of determination to get that cash some other way) — not realistically, right? There’s only so long you can believe someone like Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carrabba is that sad every day of his life. At some point, the bands have to realize that they have grown up, as have their fans, and there are new challenges in life.
So what happens when a band just stops? There have been a lot of bands “coming out of retirement” recently, so how do they go into recording new music for those fans who have been waiting for years for a return to form? This is the predicament that emo/post-hardcore darlings Braid find themselves in with their recent reuniting and recording, now some 16 years after their last album.
While they weren’t as stuck in a world of young love gone awry as others, they had a devoted young fan base that took their words to heart. Their first EP back together, 2011’s Closer to Closed, was met with mixed reaction, some wanting them to be what they were and hating that they weren’t, and others enjoying a quick taste of what might have been. Now, No Coast, their first proper full-length since 1998’s Frame and Canvas, deals in part with coming back to the scene and where their lives are now, but at the same time moves the music as logically forward from where they left off as they could.
Braid arrived in the young consciousness just before “emo” became an ear-splitting behemoth, so there was still room for growth and definition. No Coast retains a lot of the trademark sound they developed with that freedom: Bob Nanna and Chris Broach’s guitar lines weaving in and out of each other like a whiskey-drunk in a crowd (as on opener “Bang” and the title track) and Damon Atkinson’s complex stop-start drumming (showcased in the upbeat “Damages!”). There’s plenty here for longtime fans, but the sound has been cleaned up and shined.
That production scrub is the major difference between No Coast and albums like Frame and Canvas. No Coast almost takes on a current-era Death Cab for Cutie sound. Nanna and Broach’s vocals are brought forward in the mix rather than acting as just another instrument. On one hand, it clears things up a little, diversifying the production. The lo-fi fuzz of earlier recordings was a bit of a sticking point, making full immersion difficult. However, there’s an odd, almost Auto-Tuned sound to the vocals here. The beauty of Braid was the strain in the vocals, the fight. It gave you something to latch on to, to pull you along with the band. No Coast, however, has smoothed everything down. Unless Nanna and Broach have been doing some major work on their vocals in the last 15 years, there’s some studio trickery going on. Emotive songs like “Damages!” sound more written-by-numbers than an emo fan might like; there ought to be a missed note or a harsh scream somewhere to make it feel realistic.
That’s not to say that No Coast sounds bad. Non-Braid diehards won’t necessarily notice a difference. Songs like “Doing Yourself In” and “East End Hollows” are powerful and smart. The former is Braid commenting on just what I’m discussing here: What do we do now, 15 years later? They sing about their protagonist and how “At 23 she sees the future/ Her dreams are dark,” a refrain that can only come from someone looking back at the catastrophic world of their early 20s. It’s a line they couldn’t have written when they were that age. They continue later with a lyric that fits the hindsight view of a lot of the emo/screamo music of the late-’90s: “Too young to know the difference between words whispered out of love and words we could’ve screamed so easily.”
It’s definitely apparent that, as Roach said in a press release, “I think we feel like we want this to be an introduction to Braid more than a follow-up to previous material.” The band had good judgment; they knew they couldn’t, and shouldn’t, try to write another Frame and Canvas. After they had been gone from the scene for 15 years, those fans who followed them and loved them then would find them now. New fans who are just discovering them through this album will now have a jumping-off point to explore the back catalog. Old fans will view these songs as safe and lacking their previous enthusiasm (which they do, in comparison). That said, No Coast is a solid album. Braid is an intelligent band being true to what they are currently in this world and musical landscape, as they had from the jump. Is this the way all of the youth angst bands should grow up? It certainly couldn’t hurt. On No Coast, Braid let themselves grow independently of trends of music, and that will be their saving grace, even if it does mean they’ve sanded down and hidden the rough spots that distinguish us all as humans.
Essential Tracks: “Doing Yourself In”, “East End Hollows”, and “No Coast”