Albums in Review 2015 - Deep in the Iris, Braids
Deep in the Iris is about internal struggle. It is listening to the human brain comprehending and processing loss, guilt, trauma, love and happiness. It is scary as hell, but intensely beautiful.
When Paul showed me this album for the first time while driving to a show in the Spring, he prefaced the beginning of it with some extreme compliments as he usually does with great albums. Then he said, “I think you’re really going to like it.”
He knows me well.
I remember being struck by how these beautiful disjointed piano chords, deep bass swells and intricate synth melodies were woven together. They flowed in adjunct harmony over top a bed of driving electronic and kit percussion creating a surreal, dream-like flow throughout the album. And I remember a voice, swirling about the music, sometimes drenched in reverb and delay effects, sometimes naked and vulnerable, sometimes belting and buzzing in anger. To be more specific, I remember hearing a real person: a woman, a daughter, a lover, a friend, and an enemy.
Deep in the Iris opens with a gathering of breath, foreshadowing the impending weight of the coming album. Letting Go, the opening track, has a steady driving drum pattern with offbeat piano chords laced within, creating a base around which the song swells in a haze of hallowing vocals, catchy synth lines and subtle guitar leads. We hear Raphaelle Standell-Preston’s voice and the struggle begins. “The days assemble, what do I see? A river running inside of me.” Letting Go refers to an intense moment of carnal conflict from which Standell-Preston was faced with living the consequences of. The song ends with a longer, more building chord progression as Standell-Preston repeatedly laments, “the hardest part is letting go.”
The album continues with this self-reflective lyrical style. When paired with the dreamy electronic music, it seems as if you can hear Standell-Preston’s internal thoughts as they flash into existence. Taste begins with another driving drum beat and piano combination on top of which the rest of the song swirls. Lyrically this song is struggle to accept the love of another due to self destructive tendencies. The line “We experience the love that we think we deserve” is sang in a catchy melody in the chorus as Standell-Preston bluntly explains why she abandons someone whom she deeply cares about. The song ends with a break in percussion and huge waves of synth mixing with distant vocal effects creating a swirl in which Standell-Preston delivers the lyrics that best encompass the theme of the album: “We can’t explain why we hurt the ones we love most of all, Deep in the iris, you see a place of hope again”
Next, Blondie picks the pace of the album up. A rave like drum beat drives the song with rising and falling synth lines building tension and letting it go only to build it back up. This tension accompanies the dark lyrical content as Standell-Preston writes a frantic internal dialogue of a sexual advance from a step brother. It is simply terrifying, “touch me so young, make it seem fun, take everything, you don’t care.”
Blondie then transitions into Happy When; a sleepier song about the struggle to be happy. It exemplifies the feeling of despair, in which happiness and peace seem constantly out of reach. Next up is Miniskirt, the album’s first single and perhaps the most poignantly written on the record. It is a story about Standell-Preston and her mother escaping an abusive relationship that provides intense insight into the pressures of being a woman and the double standard that exists between men and women and how they choose to use their bodies. Standell-Preston does an incredible job at modifying her voice in this song to convey anger, frustration, sadness and even sarcasm as she describes in the line “Everything he touches is for him”. When the first chorus arrives, the deep buzzsaw synth, it will cause your hair to rise on the back of your neck and Standell-Preston’s defiant, belting voice will stop your breathing as she declares, “My little mini skirt, think you can have it? My little mini skirt, it’s mine all mine”
The album continues from here continuing to tap into these deep personal struggles. Getting Tired acts as the divider of the first half and last half of the album as it gives you a rest from the intensity of Miniskirt. It is quieter, with an off beat drum shuffle underneath a long, detached piano melody line as Standell-Preston continues with an internal dialogue, this time struggling with the feeling that she no longer wants a relationship while still attempting to maintain appearances and spending time that person.
The album ends with a great three-song line up of Sore Eyes, Bunny Rose and Warm Like Summer. These songs flow into each other very well and seem like the warmest on the record providing dance-worthy rhythms and catchy melodies. Which is a contrast and provides relief from the cooler, more depressing tones and chord progressions found in the first half.
Sore Eyes is particularly relevant to the present lyrically as Standell-Preston tackles an obsession with pornography and how it shapes her vision of what sex is supposed to be. She poses the question, "What's so bad with being alone?" in Bunny Rose, depicting a desire to avoid the possible downside of falling in love with someone. And finally, the album ends on a melancholy note of hope. Warm Like Summer is another song of love lost, however, this time with a positive twist to end. As the upbeat beginning of the song switches from its quick synth melodies and driving rhythm to a building, uplifiting piano chord progression, Standell-Preston sings a hopeful message about this person she loves but is no longer intimate with, "There is no end, There is no start because you're always in my heart"
I've seen Braids live now twice, once at Hillside last year and once at Lee's palace in the summer. They are like nothing I've ever seen. 3 people on stage using a combination of sample pads, keyboards, guitars, voice effect modules, an insanely talented drummer in Austin Tufts, an alien of guitar, sampling, and keyboards in Taylor Smith and Raphaelle Standell-Preston with her angelic voice and beautifully genuine attitude on stage. When they play this album live there is a raw energy to it that completely envelopes the room.
Deep in the Iris caught me in a way that few albums have been able to. It is a masterpiece of mixing and production with everything seemingly out of control, yet perfectly aligned.The intricate weaving of an electronic dream pop rollercoaster ride paired with the raw honesty and vulnerability of Standell-Preston's lyrics provided a complete album that allowed us to have a real look at what it is to be human. It has changed the way I think about songwriting. How being vulnerable is good in writing and being honest with yourself about your mistakes will allow the listener to connect with you on a very deep level.
Why hold back? Embrace the struggle.
This is the final review of our 2015 albums of the year, hope you enjoyed it, we all did! We'll be sure to do this again for 2016, until then, come see us play this year, we miss you. Tons of exciting stuff to announce soon.