Braids, ‘Flourish // Perish’ – Album Review
Montreal’s Braids have gone electronic. That’s not to say synthesizers were previously absent from their sound, but the tribal drumming and coiled guitars that marked their 2011 debut, ‘Native Speaker,’ have been exchanged for drum pads and laptops on the group’s newest offering, ‘Flourish // Perish.’
The band’s shift from electro-psychedelia to outright IDM isn’t exactly unprecedented. In recent years, Montreal has been a hotbed for left-field electronic acts like Grimes, Purity Ring, and Braids singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston’s own techno-tinged side project Blue Hawaii.
But the group’s change in sound wasn’t made simply to fit in more securely among Montreal’s current underground music landscape. The coldness and sterility the band exudes on ‘Flourish // Perish’ with their new beat-oriented approach speaks to the group’s thematic intentions as well. They’re summed up neatly in the album’s title, which alludes to the dichotomy of human isolation as a result of technological progress. ‘Flourish // Perish’ is mostly a success, even if the band sometimes struggles to make the new sound a natural fit.
‘Flourish // Perish’ is a quiet record, leaning on glitchy, bell-tone textures; stealthy drum programming; and subtle, serpentine melodies. Standell-Preston’s voice remains restrained and almost detached for much of the album’s 55 minutes — another hard adjustment after the frequent vocal outbursts that stretched ‘Native Speaker’ out into widescreen territory. There are moments when the vocals start to push outward, but Standell-Preston is quick to reel them in again.
The one exception is the eight-minute Bjork-meets-Avey Tare closer, ‘In Kind,’ which might be the only track on ‘Flourish // Perish’ where Braids play to their natural strengths, combine it with their newfound production-driven sensibility and deliver something truly unique and affecting. The song opens with New Age-y ambiance before clamping down on a staccato synth melody and some skittering live drumming. Standell-Preston uses her voice as a lead instrument instead of a cloudy texture as she does on the previous nine tracks, jumping from vamping alto to pastoral falsetto. The song blows up in the second half, the singer shrieking at the heavens. It’s hard not to wonder how a whole record of these songs might’ve sounded.
But aside from ‘In Kind,’ ‘Flourish // Perish’ is a subdued, almost soothing affair. Outside of Standell-Preston’s magnetic vocal presence (which does go a long way, to be sure), it’s hard to find anything that really stands out. There’s a uniform aesthetic for the most part, along with a refined songwriting sensibility, but it rarely surprises or sticks beyond its genre confines. Braids have made the transition to electronics more naturally than most, but they still have some work to do before they deliver something as strong as their previous material.