Funny how a well-placed "fuck!"can snap one's attention into focus. Native Speaker, the debut record from Montreal-based four-piece Braids, murmurs along for a couple minutes before singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston snarls, "Have you fucked all the stray kids yet?"really punching it on the profanity. Before that, lead track "Lemonade"had been pleasant enough, cycling through ambient sounds, slowly rising strings, and Animal Collective-style electro-burbling before she softly sings a note. But when she hits that line, her voice moves from pleasant to something else, something pointed and distinct. It's the first sign that we're dealing with a band that might want to directly engage and unsettle rather than just envelop with intriguing tones, and then politely leave you to daydream. The textures themselves, layers of guitar, keyboard, synth, are thick and novel, sure, with insistent if erratic drumming effectively coloring but not exactly leading the sound. But in these long songs, which rise and ebb in a kind of amorphous shimmer, Standell-Preston's strong, nearly brassy vocal bursts are the points of interest. "What I found, is that we are all just sleeping around,"she says, not needing the clipped loop of panting noises behind her to reveal the subject matter. She's singing about sex, right? Hmm, tell me more.
Prurient interest isn't the only draw of Native Speaker (though the title track's breathy sighs of "It feels good,"momentarily cast doubt on that assertion). In "Glass Deers,"Standell-Preston uses her trucker's mouth to less smutty ends, oddly stretching and adding syllables to the words "I'm fucked up"until they sound like a weird, private clicking language that only little girls seem to know. The cursing isn't the point, really. That song's catchiest bit is a wordless bit of percussive melody around minute six of its eight, following a compelling stretch of also lyric-free shrieks. In the midst of what could be a stately but snoozy run of post-rock and drone ambling, Braids manage to embed snatches of urgency in music that goes out of its way to wander. It seems they don't quite get their own distinct lure just yet. The seven-song record's last three are pretty and quiet, but pretty much just that—forgettable when there was reason to believe they'd figured out how to avoid being forgotten. For such a stretched-out, unhurried album, it's weird how suddenly Native Speaker sucks you in, and weird again in how quickly it drops off a steep cliff.