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Braids “Flourish/Perish” – Album Review

Arbutus Records (2013)

Recorded in the wake of keyboardist Katie Lee’s acrimonious departure, the title of Braids’ second studio effort, Flourish/Perish, suggests that the Calgary trio are fully aware that the follow-up to Polaris Music Prize nominee Native Speaker may be something of a make-or-break career moment.

This anxiety certainly spills over into its ten tracks, the majority of which entirely abandon the shoegazing art-rock leanings of its predecessor and instead aim for a less-is-more ice-cold electronica approach that draws upon the likes of Aphex Twin, Portishead and Radiohead’s Kid A.

An album of two halves, Flourish/Perish initially begins with a more optimistic outlook as Raphaelle Standell-Preston wraps her avant-garde folksy tones around the eerie synths and cartoonish glitchy beats of “Victoria,” while the enchanting “December” and “Hossak” both sound like Bjork has been let loose on a series of adult lullabies.

But from the haunting ambience of “Girl” onwards, Flourish/Perish become more and more unsettled, nervy and at times disturbed. Combining jittery percussion and warped synths, “Together” eventually builds up to a more sinister take on labelmates Purity Ring’s witch house.

“Amends” appears to be a direct response to Braids’ recent line-up change as Standell’s cries of “we have come so far/don’t throw this/she’s thrown it” are chopped and screwed against a glacial minimalist backdrop. The proggy closer “In Kind,” which lurches from cinematic dream-pop to tetchy math-rock, becomes more and more agitated until it collapses under a heap of vocal shrieks and industrial bleeps.

Evidently bruised by their recent experiences, Braids’ cathartic display often resembles a particularly torturous therapy session, particularly during the record’s bitterly bleak second half where every single track clocks in at over the six-minute mark. But while it occasionally steps over into self-indulgence, this striking and ambitious sophomore suggests that the trimmed-down trio’s career is more likely to flourish than perish.


3.5 / 5 stars     

About the Author


Jon O'Brien's love of music began as a six-year-old after becoming bizarrely transfixed with the 80s poodle rock of Heart, Europe and Def Leppard. Switching his attention to pop icon Michael Jackson, he then became addicted to the UK Top 40, becoming a rather pointless walking Wikipedia of chart positions in the process. Driving his poor neighbors up the wall while learning to play the drums as a teen, he toyed with the idea of becoming a musician, but in studying Journalism at the University of Central Lancashire, he realized heÕd rather write about music than perform it. Since then, he's written thousands of reviews and biographies on everything from bubblegum pop to death metal, but electronica remains his main passion, with everything from Aphex Twin to Zero 7 in his spare room-consuming record collection. Jon resides in northwest England near Liverpool.

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