Braids – ‘Shadow Offering’ review: beleaguered band take on the big issues, but tie themselves in knots

After a period of internal strife, the Montreal art-poppers ditch obscure synths and attempt to reconcile with themselves. The results are mixed

Braids’ last record, 2015’s  ‘Deep in the Iris’, explored the emotional tussle that follows the breakdown of a relationship. since then, former band member Katie Lee has shed some light on one of the splits it may well have been addressing.

The Montreal-based band’s former keyboardist – who left Braids during the recording of their second album ‘Flourish // Perish’ – claimed in a statement that the band stripped her “fair ownership over certain songs”, and silenced her attempts to speak up about social and political issues. Seven years after her departure, Lee agreed to meet the band to talk on the condition that they attended an “anti-oppression workshop designed specifically around racism within a working and arts context”. Braids later apologised during a session with two mediators.

“I am grateful that she brought this to our attention and to the public’s attention,” wrote vocalist Raphaelle Standell-Preston in a statement following their meeting. “These conversations are absolutely essential in understanding, confronting and eventually abolishing the forms of oppression and racism that exist unknowingly and knowingly within our relationships and institutions.”

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These attempts at reconciliation – strangely prescient as structural racism re-enters the mainstream cultural conversation – also seem relevant to the major themes of Braids’ ‘Shadow Offering’. In a statement, the band speak of experiencing a sort of emotional eclipse with new lessons coming into focus: “Parts of us get eclipsed by certain experiences and behavioural tendencies, trauma and societal programming.” The far-ranging ‘Snow Angel’ makes particularly pointed attempts to understand this. Written in the aftermath of the 2016 election of Donald Trump, it’s a pacy, spoken-word slab of electrified post-punk with a deft touch.

“Am I only just realizing the injustice that exists?” asks Standell-Preston, atop cyclical guitar, “cloaked in white privilege since the day I was born, blinders on, blinders on.” Green smoothie recipes, houseplants smothered by over-watering, the fast fashion industry and global warming all get a look-in, too: “Whole world’s going to shit / This white girl contributes to it.”

There are an awful lot of ideas whirling around here – and no single cohesive point. Some of the revelations here are perhaps meant to feel naive; but at the same time, the world issues described feel detached, held at arm’s length. It’s undoubtedly well meaning, but it’s also clumsy.

Elsewhere, ‘Shadow Offering’ is more cohesive – where the focus shifts onto love and heartbreak, Braids are incisive, and conjure up a kind of confiding emotional warmth; Death Cab For Cutie’s Chris Walla’s rich production is the ideal match. Exploring self-destructive tendencies ’Young Buck’ reflects  on a night of emotional numbing; ‘Ocean’ details the pain of letting somebody go in order to free them; and ‘Eclipse (Ashley)’ spirals theatrically upwards – an ode to friendship and resilience, it’s the stand-out moment.

Showing a more human facet to Braids, who first built their career on airy, Animal Collective-indebted synthscapes, ‘Shadow Offering’ is an intriguing, if slightly scattered, listen. Then again, what are emotions if not messy?

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Release date: June 19

Record label: Secret City

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