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Braids, Railbird, Hand Habits

by Raurri Jennings on September 27, 2012

Valentine's, Sept. 19


Say what you’d like about Valentine’s cockeyed pool table and infamous bathrooms, but they have made one solid booking after another this year, proving St. Vincent’s booking agent dead wrong that there is no market for the elusive “indie rock” niche in the Capital Region.

Hot hand Meagan Duffy has been landing lead guitar gigs with local acts Better Pills, Babe City, Careers and MaryLeigh and the Fauves, but graced the stage with her solo project Hand Habits for a set of dreamy guitar rock. Songs like “Bloom” and “It Doesn’t Matter” charmed with earworm melodies and hushed instrumentation. While the sound man was working out a technical problem with the keyboard, Duffy punctuated the lull with subtle rushes of feedback over a prerecorded loop that trailed in the pleasant fog of the first two songs. Duffy broke the downtempo spell toward the end of the set with fits of distorted guitar strumming, altered by the array of guitar gadgets at her sequined feet, culminating in a volley of guitar solos between her and Jonnie Baker, succinct and melodic.

The latest permutation of Railbird came to Albany for their second set in the area this month. Up from their current stomping grounds in Brooklyn, the band seemed to be tickled by the familiar space and brought new songs for show and tell. Sarah Pedinotti’s knotty delivery has smoothed some since their album No One, providing a foil for Chris Kyle’s jagged guitar stabs and tricky polyrhythms. Nowhere was this more evident than in their closer, a new song called “Mirrors,” which featured a truncated slide-guitar riff trailed by a vast echo, as Pedinotti triggered sample-pad hits of her voice and sang honeyed Sade hooks. The sole touchstone from No One was the album’s title track, into which they transitioned deftly on a cloud of delayed guitars and Pedinotti’s intermittent coos.

Short-listed for their album, Native Speaker, in the 2011 Polaris Prize—Canada’s honor for the best full-length record by a Canadian band or artist—headliner Braids lived up to their critical hype. While Native Speaker dips into a pallet of bright watercolor pop, the band’s set, culled mostly from new material they’ve been composing this year in their Montreal garage studio, bears the texture of De Goya’s shadowy oil canvases. The constant of Braids’ output thus far is their dense polyrhythmic style. They crammed the treble clef with more syncopated 16th notes than four Aphex Twin records played on top of one another in staggered heats. The busy percussive soundscapes, hammered out by mallet player Taylor Smith and drummer Austin Tufts, were pierced by Raphaelle Standell-Preston’s nimble vocals, which oscillated between Bjork’s baroque ululating and Panda Bear’s stately vowels. Their closer, “Lemonade,” the opening track from Native Speaker, provided an emotional payoff for the evening that had the front row hopping and singing the descending line, “All we really want to do is love.”