Braids - Flourish // Perish

‘Flourish // Perish’ is winter to ‘Native Speaker’’s summer.

Label: Full Time Hobby

Rating: 8

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. Gone is the Animal Collective-indebted, heat-wave hypnosis of tracks like ‘Lemonade.’ Instead there are tracks such as ‘Together’ - sparse, digital beats are paired with Austin Tufts’ intricate drum work, delicate marimba-like synths cycle through in the background, and nebulous pockets of reverb float in and out of focus.

It’s still the Braids of old, but the focus of their organic-synthetic hybrid sound has shifted. ‘Flourish // Perish’ is winter to ‘Native Speaker’’s summer - icy electronics taking the place of velvet guitars. Take the aloof cool of ‘Amends.’ It almost feels as if it were written by some Berlin–hailing producer du-jour - certainly not a Montreal three-piece on album number two. Meanwhile, ‘Hossak’ is another product of Braids’ new, sparser aesthetic - soft, sporadic drum stutters, Raphaelle Standell-Preston’s Bjork-ian, dreamlike vocals, and a gentle synth line are the only fundamental components here at all.

‘Flourish // Perish’ offers an admirable change in direction for Braids - with the accolades afforded by their debut effort, the band almost certainly could have just dialled this second release in. But here, they’re trying to do more with less, and the electronics now rule where the reverb-laden guitar once seemed to have a pretty unremitting hold. What’s more, they’ve achieved this without relinquishing the warm, enveloping lushness that drew everybody’s attention in the first place. That effort was certainly worthwhile - ‘Flourish // Perish’ is a thoroughly rewarding listen.