Release Date: Aug 20, 2013
Record label: Arbutus Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Native Speaker, Braids’ 2011 debut, was an album notable for it’s psychedelic restraint as much as it’s sexual come-ons. It appeared at just the right time for the group, as Raphaelle Standell-Preston’s sometimes airy, sometimes carnal vocals brought along visions of an Avey Tare/Victoria LeGrande love child alongside a band that clearly wanted everything to do with the wave Animal Collective’s Meriweather Post Pavillion and Gang Gang Dance’s Saint Dymphna was riding. The band created an interesting dynamic in which Standell-Preston cooed and wailed about her increasing understanding of her own sexual desires while promiscuously mining all the hottest art pop moves of the time, acting out curiosities equally arousing.
BRAIDS' 2011 debut Native Speaker stood out as an inventive, cerebral take on the syncopated obsessions of their peers. Returning after a foray into side project Blue Hawaii, the Montréal group's follow up finds them crystallizing their influences and thought processes into one of the most accomplished collections of tracks this year. .
With a title that reflects the knife's edge between life and death, success and failure, it's not surprising that making Braids' second album was a crisis moment for the band. Following the praise for their lush debut Native Speaker and intense touring in support of it, creative differences ultimately led guitarist Katie Lee to leave the group. Plenty of bands could have folded under these conditions, but on Flourish//Perish, the trio version of Braids opts for the former instead of the latter.
A light touch isn’t what comes to mind when you think of the Montreal synthwave scene, home of the squishy Moog fart and the one-finger Casio solo. Regardless, despite being relative newcomers to the technology, latest export Braids have quite a way with detail and understated arrangements. This, their second album, caresses your ears with chiffon textures, complex but elegant drum patterns and a litany of exquisite flourishes (the manipulation of Raphaelle Standell-Preston’s pixie-ish vocals is sublime).
Get Braids drummer Austin Tufts going on about the sound of Flourish//Perish and you'll struggle to stop him: "beautiful" and "intimate" crop up frequently — unsurprising, given the synthetic sheen that characterizes Braids 2.0 — while adjectives like "sloshy" and "enveloping" make quirky appearances. Another neat descriptor would be "biorhythmic," as songs like "December" and "Hossak" explore Western frustration in the language of natural cycles, their synth-led momentum emulating rainfall, rapids and beating wings. If it seems a far cry from the band's Polaris-nominated debut, Native Speaker, close listeners will notice an electronic influence buried in that record's insular, arpeggiated guitars.
On the follow-up to their excellent Polaris-shortlisted debut, Native Speaker, Montreal-based art rock trio Braids (now one member lighter) employ a plugged-in approach that straddles the line between pop and minimalist electronica. Lethargic, listless numbers fill most of the album, with Raphaelle Standell-Preston's beautiful, dynamic vocals flitting and floating across creeping synthesizers. It's a sharp contrast to their debut, where she was more likely to yelp overtop heavy, organic layers of strings, drums and keyboards.
Success brings its own problems, and in the case of Braids, the success of debut album Native Speaker led to a whole load of them. Critical acclaim and a near constant two years on the road has led to the departure of band member Katie Lee, casting something of a shadow over the band’s follow-up record. In fact, even that title – Flourish // Perish – seems to indicate that not even Braids themselves know what direction they’ll find themselves pulled in next.
When Braids played South by Southwest in 2011, they were unlikely heroes, turning cerebral, nuanced compositions into something comprehensible as a performance. Part of this was from their music-geek attention to detail, but part was the warmth with which they delivered their headphone-ready evocations—with smiles, hoots, hugs and tears. That humanity is very much still at the heart of their sophomore album, Flourish//Perish.
Musical restraint is often confused with abstinence-- the idea is that artists are constantly warring with a natural compulsion towards adding that extra vocal overdub or drum solo or two-minute coda and should be rewarded for “winning.” Montreal's Braids made restraint feel a lot less theoretical on their 2011 debut Native Speaker and the results were often fascinating. The songs averaged about seven minutes and made no secret about the influence of Animal Collective at their most hormonally charged. But they weren’t defined by indulgence so much as a Hulk-like instability.
Staying true to their scholarly pop personas, Braids' response to success is all about self-reflection. The Calgarian trio attempts to go darker and more conceptual on their second outing, Flourish // Perish, exploring a shadowy and far more subconscious version of the playful, somewhat twee brand of shoegaze they crafted on their 2011 debut, Native Speaker. The album is insular and dreamier, playing up the band's witchy, incantational charm and eschewing structured melodies for a more stream-of-consciousness approach.
In music, there’s constant pressure to recreate the past, especially when your previous work was critically acclaimed or lauded by fans. Braids' 2011 debut, Native Speaker, was a stealthy success that introduced the Calgary collective’s modest brand of dream pop. There were accessible elements, yet ...Speaker was far more cerebral: Just when it veered toward a narrow path, Braids re-shifted to something experimental, its airy aesthetic layered with distorted guitars and breezy ambience.
Braids reached full stride fast in 2011 with their Polaris-shortlisted Native Speaker, an LP that also happened to feel like a soundtrack to a person running their hardest, head back, drunk on endorphins. It was a propulsive and optimistic debut that still managed to make good on the band’s obvious reaches towards the unearthly aural territory held down by BjÃ¶rk and Radiohead. But on Flourish // Perish, the Montreal trio takes a sharp turn inward.
There must be something in that Montreal air. Braids’ ‘Flourish // Perish’ marks yet another gem from Canada’s cultural capital - but it’s been two years since the band’s Polaris Music Prize shortlisted debut ‘Native Speaker’, and they’ve certainly made some changes.Now a three-piece - keyboardist and vocalist Katie Lee having handed in her resignation last year - Braids have found themselves a more refined and focused sound. The electronic aspect of their music - that which played second fiddle to the hazy guitars and warm synths of their debut - has risen up and found a stronger, more definite voice.
Canadian art-tronica threesome Braids wowed audiences worldwide with their Polaris Award-nominated debut LP, Native Speaker. Wildly positive praise was dished out left, right and centre to the trio for the record, which SPIN noted as “glimmering, pastoral post-rock with foul-mouthed lyrics,” with others drawing comparisons to Animal Collective, Siouxsie Sioux and Yeasayer. It was an immensely low budget foray into experimental art-rock that fuelled two years of non-stop touring.