July 1, 2014
by Bryne Yancey

First impressions tend to carry a lot of weight in music. Fans base what they wholly believe as their finalized, comprehensive, be-all-end-all opinion around the formulation of those initial thoughts, and, even if they waver to any degree to one side or the other, are informed by those early neuron signals when doing so. It’s those feelings that determine whether or not an album deserves merely a cursory listen or a much deeper one, with lyrics and song meanings and context piecemealed and then reassembled to form a completed picture.

And then sometimes, listening a new album is like putting on an old pair of jeans for the first time in years. The feel and look of that worn denim, the way the jeans legs hug yours, the worn-out knees, the frayed ends. Memories of past shows, dates from bygone relationships, and other ephemera rush through your head in waves as soon as you zip up, button and begin to walk around in them. You put them on, and even though they’re old, they feel new to you again.

On the first couple of listens, Braid’s No Coast feels like that old pair of jeans, simultaneously old and new again. Though it’s the band’s first album in 16 years, it doesn’t feel or sound like it—partly because they’ve been “back” for almost half a decade now, have released new music and have toured regularly since returning. But this album sounds decidedly contemporary, and evokes feelings of rebirth and evolution, rather than that of a legacy band cashing in on their wide influence at pretty much precisely the right time.

The most immediate attributes of No Coast are its brightness and cleanliness, and how impressive it is that Braid are able to turn those attributes into a strength without ever becoming too sugary. The band were always good at that; they never resided on the whinier, more dour end of the emo spectrum, but it’s a pleasure to hear that stance powerfully reaffirmed in 2014. For the most part, this album’s choruses are brimming with punk energy, which augments and complements its more reflective moments. Tempos change on a dime mid-song without sacrificing momentum or catchiness—Damon Atkinson kills it on the drums, to the surprise of literally no one. Chris Broach and Bob Nanna spend a lot of time trading off vocal parts, and that interplay and vocal chemistry yields plenty of great moments and adds an extra layer of personality to a collection of already-energetic, surprisingly breezy rock songs.

No Coast has a “big album” feel, and as a continuation of Braid’s story it feels, well, right. It’s a big relief that after all these years, and in an era of overblown, oversold, under-delivering band reunions, that these guys seem to still have a lot of ideas, and the chemistry and energy to execute them so well.