Braid's second full-length, The Age of Octeen, exudes a passion and roughness reminiscent of high school. From the boyish shouted/sung vocals to the straightforward, punk-influenced guitars to the lyrics dealing with failed relationships and memories, the album has an unpolished, garage-band energy. Although the album has that raw quality, there isn't a weak track on it. The first track, "My Baby Smokes," starts with quiet, mumbled lyrics, rolling drums, and understated guitars before bursting into wailing vocals backed by a wall of sound. "American Typewriter" is a little more complex with its tight, staccato drumming and quick guitar riffs. "Chandelier Swing" and "Autobiography" close the album on a quieter, more thoughtful note. Overall, The Age of Octeen is a solid effort that manages to capture the abandon and freedom of being 19.
"My Baby Smokes" evokes the seductive, hazy imagery of its title, with shimmering, rolling toms and nervous guitars prodding with distorted unease. Not always going for the jugular, Braid demonstrate a penchant for mood, something sorely missing in the jumble of Frankie‘s exhausting aural assault. "Divers" is another textural triumph. Here the guitars caress then explode. The bass is a melodic sigh in the midst of the bloodletting: "I've done so many things to make you hate me / And I know it had nothing to do with me / But I wish you'd take it back". Lyrics that, on paper, read like basic tenets of emo infatuation and youthful recklessness are rendered transcendent. They aren't screaming because they can; they're screaming because they can't do anything else.
While Frankie still remains a diehards-only release, The Age of Octeen is larger than the genre trappings, an album capable of converting skeptics previously unwilling to look for beauty and creativity beneath the din.
By the time the final peaceful guitar squalls of "Autobiography" have faded into the adolescent abyss, Octeen (and Braid) have you in the palm of their hand, waiting for the next scream or burst of distortion to convey the tumult that spoken words cannot, shocked to find yourself thinking "it's over too soon".
"Post-hardcore?" If you must. Sounds more like "growing up".
In recent news of the band reforming, I think this is the perfect time to review Braid's 1996 classic, The Age of Octeen. Here is the middle ground between their debut, Frankie Welfare Boy Age Five and their final output, Frame & Canvas. First off, this is hands down my favorite release of theirs. I say this because as far as '90s-style emo is concerned, this might be one of the most essential. If you wanted a record that has all the attributes of that entire scene, this is your best bet.
For quality sake, the music sits right up there alongside other notable albums like Diary and Nothing Feels Good. The musicianship is a bit scrappy, but also very charming. The right amounts of spastic indie riffs accompany the more softer parts into an overall welcoming product. I'm really fond of Bob Nanna and his trademark vocal style that glides along the angsty music. Also not to forget is second guitarist Chris Broach, who does a nice job of chiming in when the moments are right and also setting the mood appropriately. Drummer Roy Ewing also does a nice job of keeping the beat and hitting those important marks when it comes to uptempo grooves and nice, slow burns.
Like in my review for Boys Life's second album, Departures and Landfalls, the idea of a Midwest "time capsule" is once again a good example. You can actually feel the age and location of the guys when they wrote and played these tunes. There is a genuine rawness that comes from the music and is best noticed when jammin' songs such as "My Baby Smokes" and "Divers". The lyrics to divers moved me when I first paid attention, since the subject matter hits home like good emo should: "Son / I got your letter. / It makes you seem so old, / and since we're not together / please come home." For any type of comparison to other artists, listen to bands like Jawbreaker, Mineral, the Chocolate Kiss and even Bob's other bands, Friction and Hey Mercedes.
The emotional value presented here is striking and often makes me go back to times long gone. Music this good has a way of getting into you without any knowledge of the fact. It's when time has passed that it begins to take root and you both become connected and then you'll probably take notice. That's why so many albums and artists are held up in such high esteem, and without a doubt, Braid happen to be one of them. Get yourselves into this if you haven't already. Braid is one of the best bands to emerge from that certain era in music.