Native Speaker, Braids’ 2011 debut, was an album notable for it’s psychedelic restraint as much as it’s sexual come-ons. It appeared at just the right time for the group, as Raphaelle Standell-Preston’s sometimes airy, sometimes carnal vocals brought along visions of an Avey Tare/Victoria LeGrande love child alongside a band that clearly wanted everything to do with the wave Animal Collective’s Meriweather Post Pavillion and Gang Gang Dance’s Saint Dymphna was riding. The band created an interesting dynamic in which Standell-Preston cooed and wailed about her increasing understanding of her own sexual desires while promiscuously mining all the hottest art pop moves of the time, acting out curiosities equally arousing.
Flourish // Perish arrives just two years later but it somehow feels like a lifetime has passed between albums. The group appear acutely aware of the shift in musical zeitgeists since last we spoke, though: the death of the guitar is upon Braids, and perhaps unsurprisingly they don’t suffer much for it. The draw here is still Standell-Preston’s vocal abilities, the way she can cut a pop song like “December” that doesn’t feel all that removed from a mid-‘80s jam from the likes of Cyndi Lauper or Kate Bush before flipping to a meditative, somewhat creepy track about her friend Jordan disappearing as a strange man shows up to her front window with a pizza (“Hossak”).
The shift to a purely synthesized act appears to have awoken some mostly dormant melodic sensibilities in the rest of the band as well. Deep, warm, resonant bass tones abound on this disc, with glittery and high-energy keyboards dancing behind them as a counter balance. Braids often create this feeling of being surrounded by a great dance party while wearing headphones, searching for intimacy in a world built for anything but. There’s no commentary on a mood band being thrust into a dance-centric world.
I’ll freely admit that I’ve fallen so far behind deadline on Flourish // Perish because I’m just not sure what to write about it that wouldn’t be better served by listening; every time I attempt to put words to it, I end up kicking my feet up to soak in the sonics instead. If all these artist name-drops mean something to you, good - this album will be a greatly satisfying trip. Braids still can’t claim to do anything exceptionally original, but by throwing Standell-Preston’s vocals even further into the foreground and focusing the band’s efforts on subtle, somewhat house-like build and destroy tactics, Braids may have found their true lane as a quintessential late night tastemaker for the 2010s. If Centipede Hz was a direct expletive to the status quo, then Flourish // Perish is the warm embrace that makes everything feel splendid.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times. Thanks everyone.