One of my biggest musical regrets in the past year was missing Braids’ Valentine’s performance last fall. This didn’t, however, set in until I first listened to the Montreal band’s 2011 debut Native Speaker last week, in advance of their Tuesday follow-up Flourish//Perish. Native Speaker, along with singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston’s side-project Blue Hawaii, wear their influences conspicuously: Feels-era Animal Collective for the former, Gang Gang Dance and Grimes for the latter. Flourish//Perish continues Preston’s movement away from the rockist context (her band, now a trio, have largely scrapped the guitars) and toward the strictly electronic forms she’s tried with Blue Hawaii.
Reviewers have pointed to Warp Records pioneers like Aphex Twin as an influence here, but those glitchy beatscapes have become so ingrained in contemporary electronic music that Braids have truly grown into a sound of their own, complete with hints of Afropop and calypso. Sure, there’s a bit of Purity Ring here (minus the Gothic touches) and plenty of Thom York (a la Atoms for Peace), but F//P is set to make Braids a reference in their own right.
We get a bit of the ecstatic yowls and elliptical crescendos that turned heads with Native Speaker on “December” and “In Kind,” arguably the album’s best tracks, but the rest of the record is patient and elemental, cool-mood music despite the paradoxically fast tempos. The band have admitted to a deliberate transition toward electronic forms but it’s increasingly just canvass for Preston’s voice, which sounds warm and confident under gauzy layers of reverb and delay. “Hossak” revisits the band’s nursery-rhyme balladry but gets fractured with trip-hop vocal effects and a closing swoop from Preston reminiscent of Portishead’s Beth Gibbons.
While microhouse production touches abound, the dance margin is relatively low and the mood remains melancholic rather than dreamy. After a summer dominated by hip-hop and disco-laced dance anthems, Flourish//Perish might be the first warning that autumn is on its way.