Montreal-based indie band BRAIDS make music that one rarely encounters: music that is meant to be processed and digested, bit by bit, as opposed to gulped down in one large bite.
BRAIDS’ 2011 debut Native Speaker was a lush, layered, complex swirl of dreamy melodies, and while their sophomore album Flourish//Perish has a similar feeling, it is a longer record that allows for expansion upon their sound. Aside from the vague comparisons to post-rock/shoegaze/indie pop, it is difficult to put specific genre categorizations on BRAIDS. Each song on Flourish//Perish has its own tone and tenor, making it a bit hard to conceptualize; the overall effect is delicate, intricate, at times jarring, and alternately soothing.
Take “Victoria”, the opener. The build is slow and measured, but the vocals hit hard, melting on top of the lush piano and general background synth noise — not really a typical opener in that it’s not meant to be an instant latch-on for the rest of the album. “Fruend” is where things get more interesting and upbeat; it sounds like vocalist Raphaelle Standell-Preston is backed by a reformation of the Mercury Program. Everything in the background — vibes and piano and synth — are meant to highlight her voice. “December” is pure pop, as if the justify the frequently assigned to BRAIDS “ambient pop” label.
“Hossak” is the single with the most media buzz, and here is where you understand the comparisons Standell-Preston draws to Both have the same otherworldly sound, and backed by the twinkling keyboards and expansive electronics that the BRAIDS backdrop provides, it’s easy to see how there might be confusion. And it is necessary to note that the lyrics on this song are especially… odd; the words “slice of pizza” will be forever seared into my brain in Standell-Preston’s voice. It’s a bit eerie and a little uncomfortable, and honestly, makes me want to listen to the song less.
However, this is not a blanket statement; the lyrics on most other tracks are not particularly disturbing. Musically, however, Flourish//Perish is a bit top-heavy. The aforementioned songs are all upbeat and lively notes, with something to grab onto. The more obscure aspect of BRAIDS then kicks in at the midpoint. “Girl” is a minimalistic ballad, and “Together” is pure electronic bliss; the vocals don’t begin until minute #2. For a brief moment, you’re fooled into thinking they’re riffing on Aphex Twin — yet again, BRAIDS defies this thinking throughout the track’s full 8 minutes. The electronic backing eases up and the focus wavers back and forth between Standell-Preston’s voice and the music itself, which has heavy synthy beats between which her voice reverberates. “Ebben” takes a more quiet tone, with some heavy jam sessions in the middle. It sounds like Standell-Preston is singing with her identical twin, and that trick is used again and again throughout the record, with much success.
The best word to describe this record is one I used earlier: “complex”. To experience songs as straightforward as “December” and then to be confronted with the epic drama that is the closing song, “In Kind”, can be a bit baffling for a listener. Yet “In Kind” seems like a summary of everything you have experienced throughout Flourish//Perish — a reminder of the fact that it blew your mind with its melodic rollercoaster, vacillating between the heavy electronic and the wispy, gauzy haze that is their brand of (vaguely generalized) electropop. But this is exactly what makes it so compelling: the need it creates for one to come back again and again. As a listener, you get the sensation that you are constantly climbing a hill towards understanding what BRAIDS wants to communicate. This is both palatable and powerful; what you happens when you reach the peak of this hill is completely your own subjective experience.