Just as the hippest music fans wait in sweaty, block-sized lines to buy that prized limited edition 7” on Record Store Day, the most gracious bands in the music industry usually dole out the choicest goods on the most wonderful time of the record-buying year. But, unless I’m missing something, no band has yet to center their career around the holiday—that is, until the reformation of post-hardcore pioneers Braid, one of the most beloved (and, sadly, overlooked) trailblazing emo acts of the late ‘90s. Inspired by the collective spirit brought on by Record Store Day, the quartet decided, in late 2010, to record their first batch of new music since their 1998 landmark, Frame and Canvas, and release it on the special occasion. It didn’t quite go down like that—recording delays resulted in missing the cut by four months—but fans probably couldn’t care less since they’re getting a new handful of songs. Even better, the four-song Closer to Closed is a fantastic 16 minutes, even if its short running-time teases a future that might never come to realization—Braid have no plans to tour (besides a couple one-offs) or record further after this EP, which is kind of a shame based on the air-tight quality of the tunes present.
Guitarist Chris Broach sings lead on opener “The Right Time,” so unless you’re listening with liner notes in hand, his softer, more melodic (and slightly goofy) vocal style might trick you into thinking this is a different band altogether. But in a way—it totally is. The Braid that crafted 1998’s Frame and Canvas never would have boosted its chorus with a tambourine or wordless (and, yes, adorable) backing vocals. The “post-hardcore” tag they’ve been so highly credited with pioneering has all but shriveled from their repertoire. Which isn’t to say they don’t still carry some of the stylistic markings—electric guitars still alternate between distorted chugs and harmonized space-pings; vocalist Bob Nanna, despite now being in his mid-30s, still carries a healthy amount of pre-graduation angst; lyrically, the songs are still focused on disillusionment and tear-streaked relationship drama. But it’s clear that in the 13 years since their emo swan-song, the band’s tastes have expanded more than a touch.
“All you have to do is take me someplace beautiful,” Broach sings. And that seems to be the point throughout most of Closer to Closed. Their downright gorgeous cover of Jeff Hanson’s “You Are the Reason” is duly-worthy of a show-closing lighter (or cell phone) wave, and Nanna delivers the tender lyrics without a hint of irony, even successfully venturing to a falsetto on the chorus, floating above fragile piano chords. The haunting clarity of the lyric “You are the reason why you’re dead” carries an undercurrent of added sadness, given Hanson’s tragic, drug-induced maybe-suicide.
As closer “Universe or Worse” slowly grinds to its finale: an explosion of layered drum sounds copulating underneath warmly arpeggiated guitars, it’s clear that Braid, after having been a band for more than a decade, have never sounded more like one. It’s a damn shame if they choose not to build on this new, exciting direction, but if that’s the case, they’ve given their fanbase an unexpected—and totally rewarding—gift: Braid Record Store Day.