An intricate, beautiful experience, in turns soothing and exploratory...

Canadian three-piece Braids’ fourth album ‘Shadow Offering’ is their most authentic and sophisticated to date, weaving together a stunning narrative of lost love, agony, and frustration through emotive and transparent songs.

After a three-year hiatus, in which the trio hibernated in their Montreal studio to grow closer as a band, Braids have emerged with a more polished sound. Under a new label and by being produced by Chris Walla (of Death Cab for Cutie fame), the band was able to explore their identity and sort through their emotions to create rich, playful sounds to accompany deep, introspective lyrics.

‘Shadow Offering’ is refined and magnetic, with a raw and empathetic quality. Opening with ‘Here 4 U,’ soft guitar plucking accompanies Raphaelle Standell-Preston’s chirpy vocals to take listeners through a hazy tune about a past love. “Now I’m running through the back doors left in my mind / Do I need you, do I hate you, do I love you / Should I have been more patient with your fleeting heart / I miss you but I won’t tolerate being ripped apart,” Standell-Preston sings, reflecting on her self-worth.

There’s refreshing, newfound confidence on the record that wasn’t present in the band’s previous releases, as the band combines Standell-Preston’s demanding, playful voice with layers of groovy and plucky electric rhythms. This is most apparent on ‘Young Buck,’ filled with synth-pop vocals and fizzing beats. Focused on themes of desire, the tune is seductive and alluring. The track is reminiscent of the band’s hits songs like ‘Lemonade,’ as Standell-Preston’s vocals echo and repeat “be loved by you” against the bubbly bassline.

The standout of the album is the pre-released ‘Eclipse (Ashley),’ a song inspired by friendship and nature. It demonstrates Standell-Preston’s capability as a singer, as throughout the song she slowly builds into crescendo and belts the lyrics, showing off her powerhouse vocals.

Taking a cue from their track ‘Miniskirt’ off 2015’s ‘Deep in the Iris,’ Braids introduce a new feminist tune but tackle the issue with a new angle. ‘Fear of Men’ is a song for every woman who has ever been worried for her safety and is tired of being seen as inferior. “I’m just trying to beat / All the fears that hold me back / The fear of men / Don’t wanna fear them,” Standell-Preston sings. Taking a cue from Fiona Apple’s book, Standell-Preston’s voice builds with annoyance, sounding like she’s grinding her teeth, trying to hold back her anger.

The nine-song album follows the typical formula of three-to-four-minute songs, but ‘Snow Angel’ breaks the mold. The nine-minute song acts as the album’s glue, encompassing all of the themes and emotions of the record. Part-song-part-spoken-word, the tune covers a range of topics, from white privilege, climate change, nature, and consumption. The tune starts slowly with a groovy bassline and soft keys before emotions take control and the song shifts into a dramatic, eerie tune. Standell-Preston’s bright vocals transition into her inner monologue, as she funnels her rage into lyrical poetry. Although the spoken word feels out of place and takes away from the rest of the album, nonetheless, the song is experimental and angry, and a wake-up call for listeners.

‘Ocean’ acts almost like an interlude, to help transition the album to a close. With layers of wavering falsetto and light piano, the song is angelic. It’s light as air and warm like afternoon light. The final song, ‘Note To Self,' picks up the pace, as the fluttery drums act as a launchpad for Standell-Preston's aching vocals as she sings about self-love. “Walking down the street I felt such joy to be alive,” she reminisces on the track. The song is a perfect reminder to take care of yourself and keep going, no matter how hard life gets, and ends the album on an uplifting and light note.

During these times of uncertainty, Braids reminds listeners to keep doing their best and to be kind to themselves. ‘Shadow Offering,’ is beautiful and heartwrenching, pulling on listeners’ heartstrings. The album offers a sanctuary by easing anxiety and fueling hope, acting as a sort of security blanket for these unnerving times.

8/10

Words: Caroline Edwards

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