“Don’t stop me now, I’m tired of sitting on this fence,” Raphaelle Standell-Preston declares midway through Braids’ fourth album. It’s a line that speaks to the Montreal trio’s dramatic evolution over their first decade. Once the most enigmatic and mercurial band in Canadian indie rock, Braids emerged as fearless art-pop provocateurs on 2015’s Juno Award-winning Deep in the Iris, a record that embraced the melodic pleasures of modern R&B while addressing deep-seated traumas in its brutally frank lyrics. On Shadow Offering, Standell-Preston’s writing is even more brave and blunt as she wades into deeply uncomfortable conversations about messy breakups, dating younger guys on the rebound, PTSD, and her own white privilege. The visceral sting of those words is intensified by the album’s crisp, lustrous arrangements, as Braids double down on their growing affinity for pop songcraft over textural experimentation with help from producer Chris Walla (ex-Death Cab for Cutie). “In the past, we would usually go with the first 10 songs that we'd write and then that would be the record,” Standell-Preston says. “And with this one, we wanted to really workshop our skills as songwriters, and really challenge ourselves to write more concise, more potent songs.” Here, Standell-Preston and guitarist Taylor Smith provide a track-by-track survey of the results.
Here 4 U Raphaelle Standell-Preston: “With us having been away for so long, this song is us saying, ‘Hey, we're still here for you,’ and ‘This is going to be a journey.’ Like our past records, we go very deep, and we just wanted to offer a hand to the listener at the beginning of the record and be like, 'Okay, we're going to go somewhere together.' The song deals with the ending of a relationship and wanting to be there for that person—even if they don't really want you to be, or they're being stubborn about it—and understanding that the context has changed, but that you can still have a meaningful relationship with them in a different context that's no longer sexual or romantic.”
Young Buck RS-P: “I can take myself way too seriously, so it was really nice to be able to laugh at myself with this song—how you go on Tinder and have really, really weird experiences, and try to find the humor in all the mistakes that you've made, sexually. I feel like we started exploring that cheeky side more on [2018 singles] 'Collarbones' and 'Burdock & Dandelion,' and with 'Young Buck,' we just wanted to have fun and have a giggle at how ridiculous life can be sometimes. Taylor calls this one our confetti moment.” Taylor Smith: “We've drifted towards something like this over the years, and it was a bit of a revelation to work with Chris and see how much work goes into creating a song like this, and how deliberate and explicit you have to be with each little earworm element, and really pack everything into a neat little box.”
Eclipse (Ashley) RS-P: “Ashley is my best friend, one of the most important people in my life. This song talks about the day we went to the quarry to experience the eclipse. She's always very profound, but just does it in the most casual way. And she was like, 'With this eclipse, I think we need to ask ourselves what eclipses us in our lives.' So we all went to the quarry with that in mind, and I was thinking about how I usually stand in the way of trying to actualize my highest potential—I've struggled a lot with pretty serious depression and anxiety, and my mind can be a very dark hole sometimes. But I wanted this song to be as lush as Ashley, as lush as the grass by the quarry, and Chris just hit it out of the park in terms of pushing us to make the guitars sound absolutely huge. This was actually one of the first songs that we mixed, where we realized the potential for the rest of the record and how big and beautiful it could sound. We were like, 'This is what we're striving for.'”
Just Let Me TS: “For me, the reference for this one was always Air. I wanted to do something that's a little bit more stripped back and then very deliberately create the big balloon in the middle of the song. This was the song that got us on board with Chris—we invited him into the studio to just listen to what we were doing for fun, and this was the one where you could see the look on his face about halfway through, where it was like, ‘Wow, okay—there's like something in here,’ and we hooked him. For probably half of the writing process, this song was double-timed with skittery drums—like Radiohead's ‘Weird Fishes / Arpeggi’—and very much got into big crunchy territory. But at some point, we realized the emotion that’s trying to come across lyrically and melodically just speaks so much better if we can all just take a chill pill and give it some space.”
Upheaval II TS: “This one was definitely a journey. It started as a very different song—very, very synth-focused. We took it on tour for a little bit and it always kind of slipped through the fingers and never quite felt right. And we kind of unlocked something by stripping it back to just Raph and I playing guitars and [drummer] Austin [Tufts] on piano. We set out to write better songs, and be more deliberate with our songwriting process as opposed to extracting songs from production experiments, and this was the first time that we really unlocked the idea of 'Oh, we can just sit down at our instruments and play this one through together, and it works,' as opposed to needing all the equipment and the sonics and the textures and everything that's been our world for so long. It was a really big moment for us, but every time we shared a demo with anyone, nobody got it. So it was kind of late in the game of recording that we were just jamming around and realized, ‘Oh shit, if we just turn the guitar amp up really fucking loud and make the bass really crazy, this song's really fun! We can blow the barn doors off with it!’ So we chased that.”
Fear of Men RS-P: "This is song is drawing upon 'Miniskirt' [from Deep in the Iris] and my experience of sexual abuse and molestation as a child, and just doing years and years of therapy, and having PTSD from it and having a fear of men sometimes, and recognizing that with that kind of trauma, one tends to have repeated behaviors that are not very healthy for themselves. It's very heart-on-sleeve, telling it like it is—not exactly poetic. 'Miniskirt' was my first foray into working through that—that song was more like, 'I need to get really angry,' and this one is more like, 'Okay, I'm starting to heal and make sense of it a little bit more.' I didn't feel particularly like, ‘Oh my god, I absolutely have to have this song on the record.' This was one of the songs we considered not putting on the record, actually. But it was important for me to write about this next chapter that I'm going through with regards to healing.”
Snow Angel RS-P: "This was written around the time Trump was inaugurated, and it was so intense—it felt like the whole energy shifted in the world. And I was just thinking, 'What is this world going to look like in three or four years under the rule of this person?' And so there's this big vomit of feelings halfway through the song where it all just came out and it needed to come out, and I'm happy it came out. A lot of people, particularly in our generation, are really, really confused—like we don't totally know how to help, we don't know what to do. Power is in the hands of people who don't have the same agenda as our generation, and who aren't going to have to live with the effects of climate change and the policies the Trump administration has put into play, so I was just reflecting on that."
Ocean RS-P: "After ‘Snow Angel,’ with this one, we were like, ‘Okay, we really need to take people off the cliff and bring them back to land for a little bit!’ ‘Ocean’ is about someone that I loved for a very long time and continue to love. It's complicated, and we've gone through many different iterations of our relationship, but the love stays very strong and very consistent and it takes a lot of different shapes. It's difficult to move on from this person, and 'Ocean' is very much proclaiming that. I love this song. I think I'm crying in the take.”
Note to Self TS: “Our past records exist very much fully in the midst of difficult emotions and feelings, and don't necessarily offer that there is light at the end of the tunnel. And with this one, Raphaelle made a very deliberate choice that this record does not leave the listener feeling that way. It comes back to a place of assuredness and hope and grounding. We all sort of loosely knew this was going to close the body of work, and for a really long time, this song was just the lyrics and the absolute quietest piano you could possibly play. But over time, it became evident that we could really lean in emotionally. With some songs, you throw in the big sounds and the heavy drums, and it feels gratuitous or it feels facile. But this one, because of how it all framed poetically, it felt like everything we put in came back at us tenfold, so we really just threw it all at the wall here. I really like the idea that with this song, we create the biggest contrast that we can on a record—it starts as intimate as you can get and ends as heavy as we can lean into the tape.”