Local Listens for the Lockdown: Golden Dream by Braille Stars
Written by Ned Tilbrook on May 7, 2020
During our gathering-free quarantine KPSU is putting together a weekly column featuring the best listening from local artists.
FFO: Sonic Youth, Calamity Jane, Sleater-Kinney, Broken Social Scene
This week’s Local Listen for the Lockdown is the 2000 debut, and to date only, album from Braille Stars, Golden Dream. The album is an irresistible collection of punkish dreamscapes borne of improvisation between founding members Gilly Ann Hanner and River. While River has since left the band, Gilly Ann, also a member of Calamity Jane, continues to perform under the name Braille Stars. The two had previously put out a record as Semisweet, but, Gilly Ann says “we made this rock record and it’s pretty good and everything but we felt pretty limited.” The pair then cut themselves down to a two-piece and began improvising together, eventually dubbing themselves Braille Stars.
‘Best Song’ is the opening song on Golden Dream. This one is the most ‘song-like’ on the album according to Gilly Ann, the other tracks reaching further into the band’s improvisational roots. Nonetheless, this feels a worthy introduction to the album with earnest indie guitars and a percussion part that features cascading, celestial cymbal sounds it meanders gently but intently. The next track is ‘Parallax’ which starts off gentle, quiet, and almost unsure of itself with a single repeating guitar part at its core. Suddenly, everything clicks into place: the riff at the center gains a new energy and intent, the drums crashing in behind and other guitars joining in the surge: “it seems like it doesn’t know where it’s going then it does” says Gilly Ann, who notes that it is her favorite of the album. A powerful punk improv jam, ‘Parallax’ is built around that inexorable repeating riff. Indeed, this centring of a core riff with a sonic wealth built around it is a feature of Braille Stars’ music.
A crucial element of Golden Dream is the expert layering and texturing of sounds to create these exquisite soundscapes. Gilly Ann credits producer Larry Crane for helping with this process saying that in suggesting additions such as backwards piano and cymbal splashes that he brought in textures “we never would have thought of.” On ‘What It Feels Like’ this texturing is evident: the eight-minute track gently picks its way through an airy soundscape, atmospheric and opulent, teeming with little textural elements built around River’s drumming and a couple of repeating riffs with Hanner’s vocals gliding sweetly above the fray.
‘Liminal Objects’ is a gentle and jammy track with a choppy guitar that once again builds a dream-like substance of sound around a guitar line. In this song, the lyrics offer an insight into the band’s name:
Braille Stars, It’s all we are it’s all we’ll ever be
Braille Stars the light nobody sees
Braille Stars, Gilly Ann Hanner explains, comes from a children’s book she used to read, and now reads to her daughter in turn. In the book, a family of moles can’t see the stars – so the stars are described to them as being like singing. ‘That always stuck with me, if you can’t see the stars how do you describe them? You describe them as sound,” says Hanner, hence the name ‘Braille Stars’ was born. In their glistening, dynamic soundscapes the name seems truly apt, especially once you know of its origins.
The history of Braille Stars post-Golden Dream is one of intermittent activity. River left the band on the eve of a tour supporting Sleater-Kinney, but Gilly Ann added new members and continued playing for another year. After a brief reunion in 2008 River and Gilly Ann began playing again a few years ago. Though River has again left the band since, the two were able to write songs together during that time. Gilly Ann has also continued writing new Braille Stars material since, adding a new drummer and bassist to the band. While the writing process has changed without River and the musical understanding the two possess, Gilly Ann is nonetheless excited to re-enter the studio after this enforced hiatus and record some of the sixteen new Braille Stars songs that await us.
- Ned (Real Soon in Rose City)