Remember how everybody lost their minds over the emo revival? Once upon a time, Pitchfork positively reviewed an “emo” record. People were overjoyed, taking to the streets and knocking neighbors’ doors sharing the good news: emo is back! Meanwhile, some folks upstairs shouted down from their windows to the parade, “emo never went anywhere, you loons! You just didn’t pay attention!” I’m sure a lot of us are trying to forget the sweat worked up in heated arguments over the benefits of the “return” of emo (that many claim never disappeared), and Braid’s newest record in 16 years, No Coast, is the sweet, sweet towel to the forehead we needed.
I was seven years old when Braid’s previous album, Frame and Canvas, was released. I was twenty one when I bought the 2013 Record Store Day exclusive reissue of the album and promptly fell in love with it, just in time for Braid to reunite and start working on No Coast. Their sudden reunion was fantastic news. It was an opportunity for old fans to finally have a band they love make music again, and it was a chance for Braid to show that they could reinvent themselves and still be the band thousands of people loved.
I didn’t know what to expect when No Coast was announced, and upon listening to it for the first time, I didn’t know exactly what to say either. I couldn’t bring myself to say “Yes! This is just like their old music,” because it isn’t. In the same breath, No Coast isn’t some radical departure from Frame and Canvas either. Stylistically, the old-school cut-and-paste riffs and rhythms (Damon Atkinson is as tight as ever on drums) are there but presented in a new, more polished tone. It’s no surprise that No Coast sounds that way. The guys in Braid are sixteen years older than when they released their last album; of course things will be a little smoother around the edges. Songs like the title track and “Lux” pack a neck-pickup punch while still garnering a grinning “dang, that’s some nice tone” nod. The drums’ tone throughout are probably my favorite aspect of the record. They’re rounded out and a little more bass-heavy than before, fitting them in well with many other recent records as opposed to the trebly, sometimes grating ‘90s sound.
There are some things No Coast lacks compared to its predecessors. I was pretty unimpressed by Chris Broach’s vocal delivery, particularly on songs like “East End Hollows” or “Many Enemies”. On another older album, The Age of Octeen, both Bob Nanna and Broach had some pretty harsh vocals, but on Frame and Canvas, Nanna’s voice was cleaner, an awesome contrast to Broach’s throat-shredding scream on songs like “First Day Back” and especially “Milwaukee Sky Rocket”. That just isn’t there on No Coast. The guys are in their mid to late thirties, so I understand that skrams might be difficult, but the two vocal deliveries on the record have regressed into a state of similarity that’s too much.
Iffy vocals aside, the tone of No Coast is not only great to listen to, but it’s also an important mark of Braid’s progression as a band. They were one of the bands that fueled the modern emo resurgence. Ask anyone in an emo band today what they think of Braid, and they will at the very least have an informed opinion. However, they didn’t make No Coast to appease the starving masses. They made this record because they wanted to make a great album, and it shows that despite the sixteen years spent apart, Braid’s still got it.