So obscene is the situation we’ve now reached that it has become nigh on impossible not to sympathise with the gravity of Raphaelle Standell-Preston’s plight. In Blue Hawaii’s Untogether she’s already a hand in one of the indisputable LPs of 2013 thus far, and she and her remaining BRAIDS cronies, Austin Tufts and Taylor Smith, now follow that up with the arguably equivalently majestic Flourish // Perish. And still those pesky comparisons to a certain Claire Boucher persist. It’s probably due in part to both protagonist and parallel in question hailing from Canada or maybe, deplorably, it subconsciously has something to do with the fact that the two are making trailblazing inroads toward the core ingenuity of a genre that has, at least traditionally, remained the preserve of the opposite gender. It seems as striking as it is shocking that such a notion isn’t yet beyond the realms of comprehension, not least as both Boucher and indeed Standell-Preston continue to conjure musics capable of soundtracking even the wildest of dreams. Call it a socially prevalent cognitive dissonance, though in this day and age it remains pretty disgusting…
Ultimately, however, the comparison is not only indolent, but on the evidence of Flourish // Perish actually pretty unfair. For as a cohesive piece – and I carry no qualms in confirming it appearing thus even from an inaugural run-through – it quite incontrovertibly ranks right up there with Untogether among the most challenging records of the decade to date, and Standell-Preston’s centrality to the two oughtn’t go overlooked because to the above oversight.
Sparkling glimpses of influence – both implicit and indeed explicit inferences – inevitably line the album. From the Gang Gang Dance-y glimmering of December, to the lavish expansion of Hossak – a song rather more evocative of Medúlla-era Björk, or Bat For Lashes, or maybe even múm – there’s plenty of food for thought here proffered, elements of which have seemingly been recomposed from decomposing crumbs left under the tables of others. But we’re again picking fruitless comparisons and not only do we diminish the originality intrinsic to all that BRAIDS combine in doing so, but we set them out as some kind of derivative force which couldn’t be much further removed from the truth.
The jazzy skitter of Freund is unlike anything you’ll have heard of late, or will likely hear for some while yet, with opener Victoria’s nuanced and comparably novel idiosyncrasies beguiling similarly. “My father always said/ To get out of my head/ Maybe he meant to see what’s next to me” Standell-Preston begins, but it’s when ensnared within her own mind that her intricate compositions find themselves at their most potent. For hers is a head that apparently functions like few others, and her ability to meld together aloof, perennially ambiguous lyrics with the grand sonic backdrops provided by Tufts and Smith – who, it should be said, have only grown proportionately with the band’s inspiriting evolution – is unrivalled, and Victoria makes for a compelling reintroduction to this singular ability. It builds with soft pulsations and muffled thuds; arpeggiated squelches and industrial minimalism, and sets the ball rolling in magical fashion.
Though so discernibly absent are the impressionistic guitars to have so impressively textured Native Speaker, instead usurped by an enhanced reliance on the exclusively electronic. The punitive, rudimentary techno pitter-pattering of Together – inadvertently or otherwise – couldn’t really be much more of an antithetical force to Untogether, and yet it slowly blossoms in a similarly expansive manner to, say, Try To Be. Nonetheless an exercise in comparing and in turn contrasting even these two efforts is ultimately made redundant, given that with her every collection, Raph’s immediately recognisable vocal assumes ever more ecclesiastical resonances, the remarkably stark Girl a prime exemplar of this trend. And although the dearth of scintillating guitar parts is initially a little irritating given the softened strength they lent Native Speaker, with time it becomes apparent that this newfound circuit board impetus serves as a perhaps more robust base from which her breathtakingly mellifluous fancies may take flight.
Together ends, ebbing gracefully into Ebben from whence Flourish // Perish sets about crescendoing with gusto, and with Standell-Preston really on song for its lattermost third, BRAIDS fully realise their burgeoning potential. Tufts’ skipping rhythms, set against Smith’s globular brood, cajole a gleeful alacrity out of Juniper, while Amends shuffles into and out of focus with a mechanical precision that’s adroitly offset by a mechanistic human touch – that of Raph’s unprecedentedly processed vocal interventions. Though it’s In Kind that already sounds a surefire calling card disciples of the band will doubtless need on speed dial – a consummate amalgamation of the trio’s frightening individual abilities.
It would, it goes without saying, be all too easy for these individual proficiencies to have interfered unnecessarily and consequently overpowered the artistic synergy the band now boast in the wake of keyboardist Katie Lee’s departure, yet there’s a sense that they’re only too aware of one another’s strengths (and weaknesses, though these seem few and far between) these days and long may it continue. And individually speaking, as for Standell-Preston, if she’s not yet done enough to distance herself from remiss comparisons – one I’m aware of having perpetuated above – then there may be nothing more she can do. However now flourishing fully, we can but hope she’s not yet destined to perish because of some nonsensical parallel or other…
Released: August 19th, 2013 [Full Time Hobby]