Tales of a full-fledged emo revival have been comically misreported. The “E” word, however reviled, did of course have its progenitors, and Chicago punks Braid likely embodied that awkward middle-ground of simply being four guys with ambitiously under-distorted guitars and fantastically atonal, emotional vocals. Call them whatever you want, but their watershed 1998 full-length, Frame and Canvas, sounds just as fresh today as it did when they released it.
The band’s on-again-off-again routine since shortly after that big release precipitated several side projects, including Hey Mercedes, which ultimately helps inform the swath of textures and layering found on the band’s first full-length album in 16 years.
No Coast is first and foremost an unapologetically hook-laden album, rippling with clever lead guitar runs, smart time changes and whip-crack tempo shifts. The first thing longtime Braid fans will notice is the matured vocal presence of both guitarists Bob Nanna and Chris Broach, whose famously brash give-and-take is given a bit of spit polish on tunes like “East End Hollows,” Nanna singing “Another drink/another lifetime of regret/another song so we can sing along.” There’s a current of nostalgia running like a crooked river through the album, ostensibly unplanned. And you can hardly blame a band who hasn’t released a studio album in almost 20 years for taking some ganders in the rearview.
Anthemic songs like “Many Enemies” showcase Braid’s tight musicality while refraining from thrusting it in the spotlight like some kind of show dog; the band’s subtleties here, as well as on the totally agreeable “Doing Yourself In,” mitigate the notion of the elephant in the room when talking about any band getting back together to record and tour again after a sizable absence. No, Braid is not foregoing creative risk-taking to cash in on some fleeting emo exhumation. At least not when it comes to No Coast. Yes, Braid is still a guitar-forward post-punk powerhouse, and No Coast is a great addition to its catalog, even possibly containing some of the best material the band has ever written. “Climber New Entry,” in all its driving, yin-yang tension, is an easy candidate, and the title track sounds like it could have been lifted from their early days in the Chicago scene that birthed contemporaries like Cap’N Jazz.
Let down your guard and open your ears on this one.