It’s easy to get tangled in Braids’ wintery sophomore LP, Flourish // Perish.
Arbutus Records, 2013
7.9 / 10
Listening to Braids’ first album, Native Speaker, was a strangely voyeuristic experience. I felt like I was watching from the bushes while Raphelle Standell-Preston’s acrobatic voice leapt and danced around the warm, summery soundscapes like Julie Andrews in the high Austrian mountains. As she sang, screamed, and sometimes loving whispered cryptic lyrics about family, intimacy, and sex into my ears, I lost myself in the drawn out and indulgent music. It was strange. It was also thrilling because Native Speaker felt as honest and intimate as pillow talk, and the free-flowing song structure made it all seem simply effortless. Nothing felt forced, or formulaic.
On their new album Flourish // Perish, the loss of one member has seen Braids’ sound take a more mechanistic turn, more reminiscent of the side project Blue Hawaii’s than Braids’ first effort. This time around, the cold atmosphere and repetitive percussion is claustrophobic to the point where rather than lounging in a field of clover, we are watching a clock tick inside a house without heating. It is both more static and frigid, but Braids tries hard and mostly succeeds to make it play to their advantage.
Flourish // Perish starts out very strongly with rapid, warped percussion in “Victoria” that sounds like a fish flopping around on a hook, but the synths fall flat at the end of every line rather than cascading outwards, signalling a change in Braids’ music that persists throughout the album; most notably in the eight minute track “Together,” where the endlessly repetitive bass drums cage the synths and vocal work like sick animals.
On that note, feeling trapped and contained is actually major theme in Flourish // Perish, especially in the vocal work. Standell-Preston never lets her eccentric vocals run as wild as they did previously, and due to her poor enunciation, you don’t get a lot of meaning or emotion from her lyrics. Her old style does make one appearance in the last track “In Kind,” where the massive lead in and build up makes her final scream not only the emotional pinnacle of that song, but also the beautiful release to an album’s worth of blue balls.
In closing, Flourish // Perish is an interesting progression for Braids as a band, but the new elements that they bring in don’t necessarily play to their strengths. Rather than indulging themselves; this album shows a lot of self-denial. Everything is paired back to the minimal and restrained. However, their ability to still make a strong album despite the frigidness, the excessive repetition, and the lengthy track durations, shows that not only does Braids have the courage to try something different; they also have the dedication to see it through to the end, and the talent to make something good out of it. All three things are admirable qualities in a band.