Frame & Canvas

Band: Braid
Album: Frame & Canvas
Best song: “A Dozen Roses” is among the band’s best work.
Worst song: “I Keep a Diary” isn’t great and is sort of a cliche.

To quote the best show on TV, post-hardcore/second-wave emo is in the past, like Frankenstein and broadcast television. The hiperati of today likely look fondly at the days of Texas is the Reason, the Promise Ring, Sunny Day Real Estate and Braid, but those looks back are few and far between. Indeed, the genre has been largely forgotten.

But, there was a time when emo meant a little more than it does now — not much — thanks to bands like Braid. This was a time when hoodie sweatshirts, cuffed jeans and the Buddy Holly glasses were a fashion statement, when you could make fun of a kid for being “super emo” because he rode a scooter (with a Braid sticker on it) around my college town, has greasy black Prince Valiant hair, wore high-water jeans and a hooded sweatshirt. This wasn’t the norm.

Those days are long gone and the music flourishes it spawned remain somewhat, but it’s important to remember the salad days of second wave emo and the genre’s best two bands: Sunny Day Real Estate and Braid.

Today, we tackle Braid’s epic masterpiece, Frame & Canvas.

The particular brand of emotional rock of the mid to late 1990s was that based out of the Milwaukee-Champaign corridor that runs through Chicago. Milwaukee gave us Pele, Camden and the Promise Ring, while Chicago/Urbana brought us Sarge, Seam, Braid, Hum and others. Braid was the best of this type of music, merging post-hardcore styles with sincere singing/shouting.

I remember on first hearing Smoking Popes — a band I still consider the proto-second-wave emo group — that their sound was unique. The Popes combined punk rock guitar, drums and bass with a singer who clearly wanted to sound like Morrisey. Or Robert Goulet.

Braid took this formula and took adolescent punk rock out of the mix in lieu of first-wave emo’s hardcore. Taken out are the Superchunk-esque little solos and added are the angular guitar lines.

Like many great bands — hello, Mastodon! — Braid uses a dual vocalist situation to hammer out the oustanding conversational lyrics Bob Nanna and Chris Broach wrote. Decidely Midwestern, the album drops middle American cities and landmarks (“Milwaukee Sky Rocket,” “Urbana’s Too Dark,” etc.) while maintaining an edgy sound. The opening track begins with a sound of a muffled drum sound before the guitars roar in and Nanna starts to wail.

“Killing a Camera” is among Braid’s best work, if only for its wildly catchy stutter beat and shifting rhytyhmsn. “Never Will Come for Us” and “I Keep a Diary” are things on which stereotypes are built, unfortunately, but remain solidy songs. “Milwaukee Sky Rocket” is fast and passionate (while featuring a solid Broach vocal on the verses), while “First Day Back” is a slow build.

“Urbana’s Too Dark” has a wonderful drum-based lead line and a solid metaphor-as-song lyric that speeds up as the song progresses. The song feeds off its predecessor on the album, “A Dozen Roses,” a beautiful sad love song featuring the band’s best lyric:

Was it clear?
‘Cause i just wrote a letter
A confession down the ladder
That things could be so much better

Strong and passionate, the song recounts the other-woman-as-reason as strongly as the normally opague Braid could do.

Braid’s catalog is a strong one, but Frame & Canvas is the band’s best album. It, sadly or not, reflects a time before the Internet, before the expansion of music into the digital world. It was a more innocent, spastic time, but one I look back upon fondly.

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