20 for ’14: Braid – East End Hollows

Part 19 of a 20 part rundown of my favourite tracks of last year

Were you there? When that third/fourth wave of emo (that had nothing to do with Rites of Spring or Embrace or any of that but was in fact pop punk with fewer dick jokes) hit? Those perfect summers when Jimmy Eat World, Rival Schools, Saves the Day and y’know a bunch of other guys ruled a small fraction of the airwaves with their angsty-yet-catchy pop songs? Just before My Chemical Romance showed up and brought eyeliner and general awfulness to the proceedings? Well, were you?

Actually I’m not sure what I mean by ‘there’ – me, I was in sweaty rock clubs in Barnsley pleading with the DJ for them to not play Killing in the Name for the third time of the night because it was ancient even then and I was so damn bored of it. A lot of people my age had the bad luck to live through not one but two perennially unfashionable musical fads that will haunt us for the rest of their lives. We got nu-metal, which no amount of ironic appreciation can stop being awful. Then we got ’emo.’ Oh, to be a teenager at the turn of the millenium, huh?

Now I can look back on emo fondly to be fair. I loved those big, heart on sleeve choruses over pop punk 3 chord hammerings and still have a soft spot for the energetic and overly ernest. Braid were old hands even back then and more an aficionados band, a we were here first, punk sort of band, by virtue of good/bad timing (depending on whether respect and acclaim or cold hard cash is your metric for these things). It’s sort of ironic then that in the midst of a minor emo revival Braid should return in their most poppy guise, sounding perfectly ready to mop up that miserable youth dollar over a decade too late. It’s pretty funny, not least because of just how natural a fit it sounds – East End Hollows is amongst the most straight up poppy things they’ve ever done and undoubtedly one of the best. It captures a perfect sense of bittersweet nostalgia- even though half of the references don’t fit my experiences they still make me pine for days of late-teen confusion.

“This is the life!” it goes. “Another drink another lifetime of regret.” They sing with that perfect mix of warmth and sadness with even a tinge of bitterness that makes up real nostalgia. The backing vocals oooh in disarming harmony, the chords straight forward and catchy but just awkward enough not to sound like Green Day feeling fancy. It doesn’t just hark back to those days that should have been their heyday but somehow weren’t quite – it’s a song that stands happily amongst them, superseding all but the best of them. The comeback business is always an awkward game to play, especially when your popularity as a defunct band dwarfs what you ever had when you were active, but Braid manage to pull it off with dignity, with style, and above all with genuinely fantastic songs. “Another song so we can sing along,” indeed. I may not be in the club with a small cadre of dudes in the know singing along anymore but if you’re out walking the streets of Cardiff late at night you might look up and catch a glimpse of a man in headphones clearly half drunk dancing gracelessly on a balcony with pure abandon. If you wonder what song he’s singing along to it’s a decent bet it’s East End Hollows.

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