Let’s get one thing out of the way: Braid in 2014 is not Braid in 1999. As an album title, No Coast is either a clever turn on geographic identification or a challenge to reunited ’90s bands not to rest on their laurels. As Braid returns with its first full-length album in 16 years, it’s probably a little bit of both.
From Chicago via Champaign, Braid was a key part of the fertile Midwestern emo scene that continues to inform not only the second wave of the genre, but also whatever wave we’re currently riding. The band’s 1993-99 run produced not only three classic albums, but also two compilations‘ worth of singles, covers and demos that are just as solid. For a scene that got pegged as sad sacks with guitars, Braid was emo’s wild hair, with Bob Nanna and Chris Broach yelping atop impossibly catchy punk songs that somehow didn’t fall apart.
No Coast, on the other hand, is a measured and often gorgeous album that still ought to remind fans why they fell in love with Braid in the first place. “Bang” and “Damages!” are anthemic indie-rock songs that recall Guided by Voices. Sweeping up and down the fretboard, “East End Hollows” is about the danciest power-pop tune Braid’s ever written. The scratchy vinyl sample at the beginning of the somber “Light Crisis” comes from a 45 RPM record written by Nanna’s grandfather from the birth family he’d only discovered a few years ago. And don’t worry, a few tracks still could have come out of Age of Octeen, like “Put Some Wings on That Kid” and “Climber New Entry.”
Like punk, emo is a young person’s game. Sometimes, it’s held to a double standard; that, as artists grow older, the “mature album” descriptor can be taken as condescending (read: “Why doesn’t it sound like the thing that I like?!”) or as a genuine big-picture overview that recognizes the way time and tastes have changed them. No Coast is a picture of a band that’s found its own footing in a scene full of stellar young bands currently paving their own way.