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On their fourth album, the Montreal trio begins a new chapter, one robust enough to hold the intense emotions in frontwoman Raphaelle Standell-Preston’s vocals.

Braids’ fourth full-length was inspired by a solar eclipse, a phenomena that provides a neat metaphor for frontwoman Raphaelle Standell-Preston’s voice—at once dark and luminescent, fleeting and slightly dangerous. Over the course of their existence, the Montreal trio have evolved from a low-key synth-pop group into a daring orchestral ensemble, and Standell-Preston’s singing has led the way. With each record, the group further excavates the powerful clarity in her broad vocal range, treating it with a lighter touch and greater space.

Aided by producer and Death Cab for Cutie guitarist Chris Walla, the band continues to expand their once-restrained electronic palette. On “Upheaval II,” they lean into the funk of the electric guitar, its low register a grounding foil for Standell-Preston’s vocal acrobatics. When songs include swarming synths, they’re for texture, not shape: “Just Let Me” layers them atop a steady foundation of piano before letting them fall to the background as a shimmering guitar arpeggio takes hold. Standell-Preston reserves her falsetto for sudden moments of grandeur, using her clear, full-throated vibrato to lend direction to the band’s more ambient passages. If 2015’s Deep in the Iris was a departure from the lighter fare of their early releases, Shadow Offering is the start of a new chapter, one robust enough to hold the intense emotions in their lyrics.

There’s a fiercely diaristic quality to the songwriting on Shadow Offering, an outpouring of grandiose metaphors rooted in personal experiences. On “Eclipse (Ashley),” Standell-Preston pairs images of the sun’s eclipse with the entirely earthly experience of self-actualization. It’s a relatable contrast, reflecting the human inclination to filter even rare astronomical events through the lens of personal milestones. Many of the songs center on Standell-Preston’s fraught relationship with men, moving from abstracted figurative language about a troubled relationship on “Just Let Me” to the entirely literal expression of anguish on “Fear of Men.” Her honest writing can make even well-trodden topics, which encapsulates most of the record, seem bright and novel. The confidence with which she discusses her poor taste in men on “Young Buck”—“Young buck 22-year-old who treats me badly/ The blaring example of what I am drawn towards/ And should strongly move away from”—would be funny, if the experience of doomed relationships weren’t so resonant.

-Pitchfork

Tracklist

1.
2.
Young Buck 03:53
3.
Eclipse (Ashley) 04:56
4.
Just Let Me 05:15
5.
Upheaval II 05:03
6.
Fear Of Men 04:30
7.
Snow Angel 09:00
8.
Ocean 03:49
9.
Note To Self 04:29