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.