Braids

Flourish//Perish

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With a title that reflects the knife's edge between life and death, success and failure, it's not surprising that making Braids' second album was a crisis moment for the band. Following the praise for their lush debut Native Speaker and intense touring in support of it, creative differences ultimately led guitarist Katie Lee to leave the group. Plenty of bands could have folded under these conditions, but on Flourish//Perish, the trio version of Braids opts for the former instead of the latter. Native Speaker's flowing, dreamlike songs were almost overgrown with sounds and ideas, which the band prunes into more artful, focused -- and not coincidentally, electronics-heavy -- tracks here. Pulling back might not sound like the most exciting creative choice, but Braids use economy even more captivatingly than abundance. The album opener, "Victoria," features vocalist/keyboardist Raphaelle Standell-Preston's most Björk-like coos and yelps, but she, Taylor Smith, and Austin Tufts are much more restrained than they were on their debut's quietest moments. Braids' new approach truly arrives on "Fruend," where the intertwining of subtle tones and textures reveals an intricate, quietly compelling beauty that they've never displayed before. Of course, Lee's departure isn't the only factor in the growth Braids show on Flourish//Perish; Standell-Preston's work with her other project, Blue Hawaii, feels like a major influence on both her more nuanced singing and the more delicate, detailed sounds around it, especially in "Juniper"'s frosty atmospheres and the abstract electronics of the eight-minute centerpiece "Together." Somewhat poignantly, the final tracks Braids recorded with Lee -- which were released before Flourish//Perish as the In Kind/Amends EP -- are also some of the album's brightest highlights. The melody of "Amends" is already tender before Standell-Preston pleads "We have come so far/Don't throw this" and the synths sparkle and flow like tears, while the alternately soothing and soaring "In Kind" offers a hopeful, if not exactly happy, ending. That these songs sound the most like Native Speaker and appear on the album's Perish side feels like a celebration of what Braids had as a quartet and what they needed to move past to continue as a trio. Sometimes some things need to perish for others to flourish, and these songs show that Standell-Preston, Smith, and Tufts evolved into a group that can not just survive, but thrive in the face of hard times.

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