Release Date: August 20, 2013
Calgary art-rock trio Braids reach back to sounds considered passé, revitalizing them through selective editing and a ratio of reverence to irreverence that’s hard to pin down. It’s a proud tradition: Soundgarden made ’70s arena sludge seem mysterious and sexy. LCD Soundsystem made disco seem like the only form a self-respecting literate storyteller should work in. Sufjan Stevens made the glockenspiel seem acceptable. And let us now welcome this trio whose sophomore album often feels like a lushly layered argument for the artistic importance of Enya and her fellow spa-rock brethren.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with this approach in these post-genre-snobbery times, as we can all use a little more help finding our chi. Nor was it probably the band’s intent to make a primo yoga soundtrack, but that’s what happens if your album features drumbeats that sound like a light rain hitting the window, and keyboard waves that beg for you to turn down the lights and open a bottle of white. Basically, if you can’t get on this group’s level, Flourish // Perish may seem like the most boring thing going, but if you do manage to wrap your head around it, this’ll be a go-to jam the next time rush hour gets just a bit too real.
The story goes that after touring their 2011 dream-pop debut Native Speaker, the Canadian group ditched guitars and decided to go in a strictly electronic direction, which is normally the type of thing self-consciously innovative groups save for the fourth album. (See also: LCD Soundsystem’s “Losing My Edge.”) Braids weren’t exactly an extroverted band to begin with, but here they’re content to burrow deep into their sound and explore every possible variation on rippling, just-out-of-focus textures, though the drums are mixed loud enough to keep things just lively enough. “Fruend” unrolls like a giant carpet as singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston duels with an ever-growing legion of her own overdubs, until its just on the verge of collapsing into some bliss-pop vortex.
Though multi-instrumentalist Taylor Smith’s intricately sliced-up beats — which at various times recall clicking a mouse pad too quickly and throwing a drum kit into a lake — feel as tricky as anything offered by fellow Northern synth-pop deconstructionists like Grimes and Purity Ring, Braids are more akin to a chamber-music group like the dearly missed Rachel’s. Though they’re currently working in an electronic milieu, it’s ultimately the same modernist classical approach: Introduce a melodic theme, repeat it without mercy as the outlying arrangements build and build, never seem like you’re in too great of a hurry, and remember that mode matters above all.
Groups like this also tend to treat the human voice as one more wash of sound to be treated and pulled apart, but Standell-Preston is too forceful a singer to get lost in the haze, and it’s worth taking the time to pick out her words, such as this illustrative cluster from “Girl.” “He’s so carefree / Why can I not be / I sense that girl / When are you going to smile at the world?” The music might be prime kicking-back fare, but that doesn’t mean Braids can’t sneak some gentle urgency into the mix as well. Enjoy your commute.