Childhood friends Ryan Colt Levy and Derek Tramont are the backbone of Long Island ensemble Braeves, but it was a labor of love and experimentation with more recent add-ons Thomas Killian McPhillips IIV and Nick LaFalce that brought forth their melodically-inspired new sound. The group, produced by Mike Watts, has garnered comparisons to Local Natives, The Shins, and Grizzly Bear, undoubtedly owing to their rich, echoing vocals that move over a similar rock/pop landscape. However, there’s a driving quality embedded in EP Drifting by Design that diverges from what we know and moves us graciously toward “Braeve” new territory.
The quartet doesn’t waste any time. From the very first drum lick in “Guest of the Gun,” Levy’s vocals ring out with a captivating presence that bends along the roving refrain. Melody and percussion play off one another, the rhythmic lyrics and sliding vocals crackling with McPhillips’ slick beat.
The EP then moves to more somber, minor-resounding terrain with “Talk Like Strangers,” a percussive rumble continuing to power the album’s course. This track unleashes Braeves’ lyrical prowess with a succinct, familiar tale of two people found foreign to one another in the wake of their mutually faded affection: “We talk like strangers in empty storylines / Stare right through each other, then on to the next lie.” Trapped by false notions of one another, they lean on illusion to ride out the storm: “Ooh, hallucinate yourself the perfect lover / Dressed in best intention, dripping with another.”
Next comes the standout – the lilting, soulful mid-tempo “Souls in Transit.” Keyboards tumble from a daydream, followed by the entrancing ebb and flow of an undulating lyric line. Levy’s vocals are rawer and realer than before, a fresh and gravelly timbre added to both his suspended falsetto and delectably pliable straight tones. Amped, electric strings break out on the chorus, and the refrain lifts from the ground for a few breathtakingly weightless moments before gliding softly back down to the swaying bass line.
At last, the EP goes out on a rolling surge in the form of “While Your Body Sleeps.” Percussion and vocals intermingle once more and throw themselves at the canvas, building to a cacophony of vibrant sights and sounds that reaches its apex, then fades.
What Braeves have brought us in Drifting by Design is that up-and-at-‘em feel that gives their soulful meander indelible purpose. It is a sound untouched by wanderlust and un-plagued by aimlessness, yet one that paints a vivid reverie nonetheless. It manages to tell the tale of that most surreal and ambling journey, remaining firmly planted in the present while at the same time boundlessly moving forward, unstoppable as life. It is Braeves’ arduously crafted design that gives this ode to a drifting trajectory the capacity to soar.