Staying true to their scholarly pop personas, Braids’ response to success is all about self-reflection. The Calgarian trio attempts to go darker and more conceptual on their second outing, Flourish // Perish, exploring a shadowy and far more subconscious version of the playful, somewhat twee brand of shoegaze they crafted on their 2011 debut, Native Speaker. The album is insular and dreamier, playing up the band’s witchy, incantational charm and eschewing structured melodies for a more stream-of-consciousness approach. The latter in particular plays to Braids’ strengths, rendering Flourish // Perish the less accessible but ultimately more instinctual of the band’s two albums.
As on Native Speaker, lead singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston lends the proceedings some interesting quirks. Her voice has an expressive range, deftly alternating between angst and whimsy as the band follows along to her careening mood swings. With its throbbing percussion and fluttering guitars, “In Kind” is an ideal springboard for Standell-Preston, matching her gesticulated eruptions with graceful lulls and twitchy spikes that span across a surprisingly concise eight minutes. The track is reminiscent of Purity Ring’s Shrines, where thick layers of sound serve as counterpoints to singer Megan James’s vocal gymnastics. Yet on much of Flourish // Perish, Standell-Preston makes James’s variability look downright static, fluctuating as she does from girlish uncertainty to exuberant hysteria to arched-eyebrow cynicism. Such versatility is the reason why tracks like the wintry, wide-eyed “December” succeed: Standell-Preston and company know exactly when to be serious and when to be flippant.
Incidentally, “In Kind” is the only song on the album that employs guitar, a shift that, according to the band, is quite purposeful. In fact, Braids delve into their synthy compulsions to such a degree that Flourish // Perish often spills into a kind of new-age post-rock, where the band’s penchant for skittering, icy soundscapes is paired with slow-moving strains of pastoral ambience. If that description sounds like Sigur Rós, tracks with titles such as “Hossak” and “Ebben” all but confirm that Standell-Preston and company seem to have been directly influenced by the Icelandic trio’s oeuvre. Braids perform with a self-assured subtlety, lending their sophomore album a quiet, unassuming depth that far outstrips the flash of its predecessor.