Sunday, 25 August 2013

Braids - Flourish // Perish


In 2008, Braids (then under the pseudonym The Neighbourhood Council) released their debut EP Set Pieces. The five track EP consists of sketchy guitar progressions and memorable piano accompaniment. Canada's up and coming four-piece were taking over the music scene. Set Pieces is still regularly played on my iPod; and the future, even if it was just a distant dream, looked bright - looked being the operative word. Braids relocated to Montreal, attended university and planned their debut album. Native Speaker was met with critical acclaim across all fields - we just couldn’t find negatives. It ended up being one of 2011s best albums. Native Speaker is a pinnacle album for the independent scene. Marking the shift from indie rock / synth pop, to a nurtured dream pop / art rock. Braids found their sound inside one minute of "Lemonade", swirling delay on the electric guitar, smooth synthesizer arrangements, and the human voice. It’s the human voice that turned Bjork in to a superstar, Tim Buckley in to an influence, Thom Yorke in to an electro maniac. Raphaelle Standell-Preston has been using hers for the same purposes.

Standell-Preston declared 'electronic' last year, in the interviews leading up to Flourish // Perish. Braids second album was to be influenced by Warp recordings and natural electronic components. It was a shock to a handful of dream pop loving fans (including myself), leading to an opened door, to the world of electronica. Also, a shock which left Katie Lee without three-friends and a lucrative Braids-related future. Lee was left outside in the cold as the trio of Raphaelle Standell-Preston, Austin Tufts, and Taylor Smith took to recording a near guitar-free follow-up. Native Speaker was built on guitars, so the reason behind turning electronic needed to be justified. Standell-Preston has been stating a survival attitude, its do or die in this business. So styling on Radiohead's Kid A and beyond, Braids embarked on electronica. It's a bold move that has been under the trio's control since the change in direction was decided. There’s no record label executive saying no, though the fans might - either way, it's a metamorphosis that has to be respected.

Canada's hip musicians are opening up their Mac's and making electronic music as the shallow rave scene of Montreal turns big. Just take a look at Doldrums' debut album released earlier in the year, a classic modern electronic album which deserved an 8.5 back in February. No wonder Braids are turning to the synthesizer, they're all doing it. Flourish // Perish's opening track "Victoria" sounds like a band in need of a purpose. Timely synthesizers surround Standell-Preston's twee like vocal, though the opening track never really hits the big time. She reaches the high notes at times, with vocal layers creating what can only be described as a Braids chorus. The trio have never really experimented with the pop formulae, so going all out / avant-garde with electronics shouldn’t be too much of an issue - it's not.  On many occasions, Flourish // Perish makes a huge impact. "Freund" could've been plucked from a James Newton Howard film score. Braids have created a spectacular album, taking out the guitar, but at the same time, keeping all the trickling reverb and delay right there at the heart. 

You can take the dream pop out of the band, but you can't take the band out of dream pop. Sticking to their roots, Braids bravely progress their careers by turning to keys rather than strings. They've looked at modern music and aimed to the future. Flourish // Perish is essentially an album made for future generations. In 30 years’ time, will people think Braids are timeless, or whatever indie rock band is knocking around in the year 2043? Braids of course. The developing digital age is growing and will grow for many years to come. This only influences artists to put down the guitar. Braids are a product of technological development. The electronic music of the 90s has played a gigantic role in the creation of Flourish // Perish. Analogue electronic instruments have been used for years by artists like Jean Michel Jarre, Vangelis, and Mike Oldfield. Legends in today's world, but pioneers in the days of Moog. Braids see this and replicate the analogue sounds of vintage electronica. When combined with the human touch, the human voice, the outcome can be quite exciting.  

Flourish // Perish has been crafted to fit an idea. Braids didn't set out to create an electronic album, no. They wanted to produce a stripped back sophomore that looks to the future rather than the past. This concept of fundamental features was laid out for all to hear on the pre-release single "Amends". Sounding like a James Blake / Vondelpark remix, "Amends" pushes Standell-Preston's vocal to the limit. They ask themselves, what can we get out of a voice? The answer is for all to hear on the final three minutes of "Amends". Layered vocals reaching the highs, hitting the lows. And while Standell-Preston sings, all the primitive synthesizers are cautiously increasing in volume. "Amends", just like most of Flourish // Perish is organic right down to Tufts' percussion.

Standell-Preston covers the strange and wonderful world of pizza on "Hossak". She elegantly sings about: "a slice of pizza," sounding like Beth Gibbons of Portishead. "Hossak" is indeed a reference to one of Braids' many Canadian influences - Azeda Booth. Flourish // Perish has a tendency to grow, as the listens start packing up. Initially, the essence of Braids' past takes centre stage in a worrying listen that confuses, yet opens the mind. With continued listens, Flourish // Perish relishes in progressive glory. You begin to notice the little synthesized features clearly. The structures are not estranged from Native Speaker. "Together" is the ultimate build-up track, highlighting the bass synthesizer at the end. On the other hand, "Girl", the voluptuous fifth track, shimmers with experimentation. Odd ball synthesizers and white noise takes the listener by surprise. Long progressions are built-in to Braids' history, and they’re not going to let go of their prog-passion.

Flourish // Perish actually possesses a finishing track with guitars. It puts the listener under an eight minute spell of Standell-Preston's vocal refrains. "In Kind" has been floating around since 2011. Its Native Speaker feel mixes smoothly with Braids' new sound. Drummer Tufts absolutely rocks it on this track, his punctual percussion is math rock-esque. Standell-Preston continues her groan and moans on "In Kind". The vocal screeching and sudden shouts are welcomed, I’m sure the hardcore Braids fans agree. Flourish // Perish is all about being accepted by the Braids faithful. Without their approval, then the change of direction, their musical influence and creative differences all mean nothing. If they can't deliver on the album front then there’s no point changing. As a keen listener of Braids, I can safely say that album number two has been successful. When listening to Flourish // Perish, I’m not wondering what Braids would have sounded like if it was Native Speaker mark two. Yes, they've moved away from guitars, but now the world is their oyster. They can do whatever they want, and by the sound of it, this Canadian trio have a big future ahead of them.
~Eddie

8.1

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