Monday, August 19, 2013

Album Review: Braids - Flourish/Perish

Rating: Woof Daddy

Braids' debut album Native Speaker was not one of my favorite records of 2011, I will admit. All the elements were there, but for some reason it never really came together as a whole for me. Mainly, singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston's voice tended to fly off out of control, never bringing me into the music, always holding me back from truly connecting me with their sound. Of course, with second record Flourish/Perish, I was not holding out hope that there would be any specific alteration of their aesthetic for me to change my opinion. Somehow my expectations of the record, low as they were, were completely shocked by such a controlled and skilled almost masterpiece of a record. Raphaelle Standell-Preston, whose voice is actually quite lovely, keeps her voice almost firmly in check this go around, which draws you in instead of smacking you across the face with her vocal flights of fancy. And this record, aside from one track, eschews guitars and focuses exclusively on keyboards and electronics, forging a record that appears to almost be a merger of Radiohead's glitchy masterpiece Kid A and Bjork's quiet electronic hymnal Vespertine.

There is hardly a weak track on this record, with the majority of tracks creating an atmosphere that revels in both dense layers of sounds as well in telling silences. A lonely, haunted air permeates the whole experience as if this music found buried in a locker at the end of the world, the final soundtrack to a life dying out. From the majestic swirls and drones of keyboards and Standell-Preston's multi-tracked voice trying to emerge from the darkness on "Amends;"

the gorgeous vocal turn from Standall-Preston on "Juniper" which floats atop a skittering drum pattern, analog keyboard drones, and what sounds like a Maori tribe sample; to the gentle electronic lullaby of "Ebben," Braids' finds intricate ways to beguile and transfix.

And it is not to say the whole record is gloomy and/or in a hushed tone throughout. There are moments of transcendent joy, as on opener "Victoria" where goofy, Animal Collective-esque keyboards bounce around Standall-Preston's loopy vocals,

a mercurial beat propels the lilting "December,"

or closer "In Kind" which rises from a bed of rising synths and guitar patterns into a vocal tour de force from Standall-Preston, who almost verges on going overboard as on their debut, but somehow is able to reign in her most indulgent tendencies.

Some fans may be turned off by Braids' move to a more electronic sound but, for me, it appears to be a more logical step for them. Standall-Preston's voice seems to work better across all the dense electronics instead of the guitar interplay of the debut record. Flourish/Perish is a step in the right direction for the band, challenging them and their listeners with a different sound; one that I think works perfectly for them.

Rating Scale:

Chilfos: masterpiece; coolest thing I've heard in ages.

Woof Daddy: excellent; just a hair away from being a masterpiece.

Grrrr: very good; will definitely be considered for my top releases of the year.

Yeah Daddy Make Me Want It: good; definitely invites further listens and piques one's interest for more material.

Meh: not horrible, but certainly not great; could have either been polished, trimmed, or re-thought.

Jeez Lady: what the hell happened? Just plain bad. They should hang their heads in shame and be forced to listen to Lady Gaga ad nauseam as penance.

Tragicistani: so bad, armed villagers with pitchforks and torches should run the artist out of the country for inflicting this abomination on the human race.

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