[sic] Magazine

Bad Braids – Arrow And Orb

One of the things the music world has never lacked is folk musicians, and it’s quite likely we never will. Hand someone an acoustic, stringed instrument and – if they have half a clue how to use it – they can hand back their heart, strummed and hummed, along with affecting melodies. If you listen to the average folk song, chances are you’ll think it’s nice, easy to listen to, perhaps good or even great. Chances are also high that you’ll think the same thing about the next one you listen to, but a little lower that you’ll come back to hear them over and over again.

Similar things could be said about quite a few music genres, but when you’re talking about folk music – where the core instruments tend to consistently be a guitar and a voice – it’s perhaps more difficult to stand out from the crowd, to do something most people would consider different, and to achieve something that even someone with the greatest technical ability could struggle with; that is, to be remembered above the chorus of other voices.

In a nutshell, the major challenge faced by Bad Braids ‘ Arrow And Orb is that – at least on paper – much of it has been done before. Granted it’s with varying degrees of success and merit, but we’ve all heard our fair share of heartfelt folk. In just 20 minutes, Arrow and Orb doesn’t merely dismiss the piece of paper that challenge is written on, but pretty much burns it without even acknowledging it’s existence.

True enough, I can apply a multitude of common descriptors for music of the genre – delicate, intricate, haunting, sweet, heart-warming/breaking … and all of the above make it very easy for me to simply draw comparisons and stand you in good stead for what to expect if you listen to it instead of reading about it. I can tell you that the faintly echoing, but strong vocals are reminiscent of Marissa Nadler . And that the vocal technique itself occasionally reminded me of Jesy Fortino ( Tiny Vipers ), the lyrical aspect of Sharon Van Etten , the gentle waltz elements of Basia Bulat , and the sometimes traditional, almost medieval aesthetic of Dark Dark Dark .

The trouble is, that doesn’t really tell you anything except what I already have – on paper, it sounds like you’ve probably heard it before. That may make it my challenge to tell you what makes Bad Braids different, but if so then I will do little to meet it, because that’s not what affects the most on Arrow and Orb.

The essence of a good folk song rarely has much to do with what we may or may not have heard before. When the focus is on the stories and the voice used to tell them, the most resonant are those that show us something we know. They put into words and music things we understand, or have experienced ourselves. When writing something of that nature, an effective lyricist can make their own stories yours, and an effective vocalist can make one phrase from that story pull both your head and heart in from wherever they were and not just keep them there, but inspire them to follow willingly through whatever the songs travel.

Bad Braids boasts both of those abilities. If you weren’t paying close enough attention from the very beginning, you certainly will when she sings “ everything he owns, let him burn ”, then whistles a happy little tune ¾ of the way into the first track, ‘When My Darling Turns To Dust (Pt II and III)’. She’ll keep that attention through the subtle, eked-out country twangs in ‘I’s Honey’, all the way through to the final track, the prayer-like ‘With The Willows’.

Maybe on paper there’s not too much that indicates Arrow and Orb is different, but that’s the point really – music on paper isn’t music at all, it’s just a bunch of notes waiting to be played.

What makes it memorable is the way they’re played, making Bad Braids a refreshing talent. Along with the comparisons music-wise, there’s one other thing she has in common with the aforementioned folksters. Give them an acoustic, stringed instrument and they don’t just hand up their heart, they grab yours – and when you get it back, it’s a slightly different shape from having been in their palm.

~Arrow And Orb is released on a limited run of 100 cassettes on March 12 2011 on Music Ruins Lives .~