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Braids come unravelled

Acclaimed pop group moves in new direction after dismissal of founding member

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/9/2013 (1438 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

TORONTO -- The members of acclaimed Montreal experimental-pop outfit Braids were once a tightly woven, intricately knotted unit, good friends who became a band and not the other way around.

So it's understandable the seemingly acrimonious departure of founding keyboardist Katie Lee would have deep reverberations for the group, now a trio. The split happened after the band returned from touring their celebrated debut, Native Speaker, and began work on the follow-up, Flourish // Perish.

Braids keyboardist Katie Lee, right, split from the Montreal-based band.

Braids keyboardist Katie Lee, right, split from the Montreal-based band.

Then, singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston says the band realized "that there was a friendship that was very broken." They diligently tried to mend the widening schism for five months, but those attempts at reconciliation gradually seemed to be doing more harm than good, and in the meantime, little music was actually getting made.

"The recording process for all of us was turning into a therapy session -- like, we're not making music here. We're so far from music right now, it's insane," Standell-Preston recalls in a recent telephone interview from Montreal.

"It was just getting to that point where it was just very toxic and kind of ready to explode."

Even if the group felt that staying together would have invited inevitable disaster, the split hasn't been without significant fallout and it had a profound effect on both the direction of the band and their emotionally raw sophomore statement.

Braids grew from high school friendships formed in Calgary. Standell-Preston and Lee were particularly close; Standell-Preston calls her former bandmate her best friend since they were 14 years old.

She's reluctant to delve into the details behind the split, and even more reluctant to assign blame, but it's clear there were disagreements over the right artistic path for the band to pursue.

The Polaris Prize-nominated Native Speaker was defined by textured, labyrinthine grooves, interlocking instrumental prowess and bursts of emotion, reminding some of Animal Collective's pop puzzles. Flourish // Perish, however, largely abandons organic instrumentation, with only Standell-Preston's moving vocals and the occasional burst of live drumming to supplement the delicately sombre computer-generated soundscapes.

The resultant record is a "grower," Standell-Preston acknowledges, and she worries its charms will be lost on multitasking music fans seeking immediate gratification. At the same time, she dismisses the suggestion the critical acclaim earned by Native Speaker led to a more palpable sense of pressure on the group.

A restless talent, Standell-Preston isn't ready to declare Braids a finished product after this recent stage of rapid metamorphosis.

"(This) is kind of like a record for us that will allow other records. It's not our end-all, be-all record," Standell-Preston says.

"I don't ever really want us to make a record like that. To me, I'm really happy that this is a record that has helped inspire a new process because now I want to start using acoustic instruments again and find a balance between electronic and acoustic a little bit more, whereas this record we went really heavily into the electronic zone.

"But we're still not electronic producers," she adds with a sheepish laugh. "We didn't make a dance record. We're not playing like, German techno or anything like that."


-- The Canadian Press


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